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Sunday, January 31, 2010

NJ tax forms not available at Library. What to do?

Plainfielders will no longer find New Jersey tax forms stacked in huge piles by the pickup table near the entry.

Because the state is trying to save money (estimating they will save half a million dollars by not offering the forms through libraries and post offices -- I can attest to the waste, having helped to dispose of carton upon carton of leftover forms each year when I worked at the Plainfield Public Library).

What's a taxpayer to do?

All New Jersey tax forms are AVAILABLE ONLNE and can be printed out and mailed or filled out online for online filing (see forms and instructions here).

For those who have no computer or Internet access at home, reference librarians at the Plainfield Public Library will help patrons use the library's computers to access and print out the forms online.

Taxpayers may also call the state to request they be mailed directly at (609) 292-6400.

Federal tax forms will still be available at the Plainfield Public Library.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Two for tonight: Lycoming College Choir, Nottage's 'Intimate Apparel'

Plainfielders have two choices for a night out this evening -- both at 7:00 PM. Lycoming College's Concert Tour Choir will perform at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, and Grace Episcopal Church will open its celebration of Black History Month with a dramatic reading of Lynn Nottage's acclaimed play 'Intimate Apparel'.

Concert: Lycoming College Tour Choir

7:00 PM Tonight

Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church
East 7th Street and Watchung Avenue
(parking in lot on First Place or at Swain Galleries)
Selected each year by competitive audition from the college's 105-voice College Choir, the Tour Choir presents the very finest in choral music, having performed in venues ranging from St. Patrick's and St. John the Divine cathedrals in New York to the National Cathedral in Washington and California's famed Crystal Cathedral. No charge, but a freewill offering will be taken.

Dramatic Reading: 'Intimate Apparel'

7:00 PM Tonight

Grace Episcopal Church
East 7th Street and Cleveland Avenue
(Parking in public lot across street)
Grace Episcopal Church opens its Black History Month celebrations with a dramatic reading of Lynn Nottage's most celebrated play, Intimate Apparel. An early 20th century African American seamstress' social network figures in a long-distance romance that leads to the conflict of propriety and transgression on all fronts. See a review of the original production here. Info: Visit FREE.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Census 2010 alert

Good advice for Plainfield residents as we head into the 2010 Census, provided by reader Dr. Ted by way of his son-in-law, who is in the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn --
2010 Census - Cautions from the Better Business Bureau About Giving Information

With the U.S. Census process beginning, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises people to be cooperative, but cautious, so as not to become a victim of fraud or identity theft. The first phase of the 2010 U.S. Census is under way as workers have begun verifying the addresses of households across the country. Eventually, more than 140,000 census workers will count every person in the United States and will gather information about every person living at each address including name, age, gender, race, and other relevant data.

The Big Question - How do you tell the difference between a U.S. Census worker and a con artist? BBB offers the following advice:

  • If a U.S. Census worker knocks on your door, they will have a badge, a handheld device, a Census Bureau canvas bag, and a confidentiality notice. Ask to see their identification and their badge before answering their questions. However, you should never invite anyone you don't know into your home.

  • Census workers are currently only knocking on doors to verify address information. Do not give your Social Security number, credit card or banking information to anyone, even if they claim they need it for the census.

REMEMBER - No matter what they ask, you really only need to tell them how many people live at your address.

While the Census Bureau might ask for basic financial information, such as a salary range, YOU DON'T HAVE TO ANSWER ANYTHING AT ALL ABOUT YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION. The Census Bureau will not ask for social security, bank account, or credit card numbers, nor will employees solicit donations. Any one asking for that information is NOT with the Census Bureau.

Eventually, census workers may contact you by telephone, mail, or in person at home. However, the Census Bureau WILL NOT CONTACT YOU BY E-MAIL, so be on the lookout for e-mail scams impersonating the Census Bureau. Never click on a link or open any attachments in an e-mail that are supposedly from the U.S. Census Bureau.
For more information on the 2010 Census, go to:

For more advice on avoiding identity theft and fraud, visit:

PS -- Olddoc has reminded me he posted earlier in January on this same topic, so be sure to check out his warnings on Census 2010 ripoffs and scams here.

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Is it time for a public meeting on the schools situation?

A brief post by Renata on her blog yesterday (see here) got me to wondering if it's time for Plainfield residents and taxpayers to have their own public meeting on the schools situation.

Frustration among attendees at Board of Ed meetings is palpable, and many then turn to the forums to vent their feelings, exchange bits of information (and MISinformation), and grumble about the state of affairs in the school district.

What Renata proposes is an editorial board meeting for the community.

I suspect the Courier is not likely to entertain an 'editorial board meeting' (EBM) that could likely involve a hundred or more residents for two reasons, 1) a mass meeting cannot really be understood as an 'entity', the point of view of which the editors could conceivably endorse (not to mention that there would likely be several points of view expressed), and 2) EBM's are ipso facto conducted at the newspaper's offices, which could not accommodate a very large crowd of people.

That doesn't mean this may not be the perfect time for a public meeting to air the issues.

As a candidate, Renata is in a perfect position to call for, and moderate, such a meeting.

It would be a sign of her commitment to getting to the bottom of things and could possibly help energize her school board campaign.

Plus, it would certainly be newsworthy -- and that means that the Courier would send a reporter to cover it.

And afterwards, they might even write an editorial.

Is it time for the issues to move off the online forums and away from Board of Ed meetings, where the public is not in charge?

What do you think?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

UPDATE: Plainfield Asset Management mess breaks into news big-time

It's a small pleasure for Plainfield Today to get the jump on the big guys sometimes. As in yesterday's post wondering about the relationship between P&F Management (AKA Dornoch Plainfield) and Plainfield Asset Management LLC, the hedge fund coming under criminal scrutiny.

P&F Management, the entity that seems to be in charge at The Monarch condos on East Front Street, has been billed as a joint venture with Plainfield Asset Management LLC, and I am wondering if there will be any spillover from the Manhattan DA's and Connecticut AG's investigations that will ripple into New Jersey's little cesspool.

Besides the condo project in Plainfield (more here), Glen Fishman is, or has been, involved with a development called The Savoy in Rahway (see Rahway Rising blog here), which has yet to get off the ground, a large project called The Vistas at Great Falls in Paterson, also apparently stalled, and the rescue of Kara Homes noted yesterday.

Today, the Plainfield Asset Management investigation has made the news in the Wall Street Journal (see here), Business Week (here), and the New York Times (here).

A Google search for news in the last 24 hours on Plainfield Asset Management returned Plainfield Today in the fourth slot -- behind Business Week and the Wall Street Journal, but ahead of the New York Times.

Beating out the New York Times?

Patting myself on the back?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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About that Courier editorial board meeting with Superintendent Gallon

Plainfield's Board of Ed would do well to note the anger in the online forums. At the same time, interested folks should inform themselves about what 'editorial board meetings' (EBMs) are all about so as to avoid unrealistic expectations (see the Page 1 story in the Courier today here).

In the first place, the Plainfield beat reporter is not in charge of GRANTING them,
SCHEDULING them, or DECIDING what will be said about them.

As someone who has endured many EBMs while I was the City's public information officer, let me share a few points.


Editorial board meetings can be set up either by the newspaper's editorial leadership or an interested party who has an issue to advocate or discuss with the editorial team. I have been involved with both sorts: for instance, the Courier typically schedules EBMs with political candidates during the election season; on the other hand, the McWilliams administration asked for an EBM with regard to the Park-Madison office building development when the project was coming together.

Organizations of all types have reasons to advocate for their point of view to be put forward by newspapers, and to hope for an editorial endorsement of same. Here are some fine examples of how to request, prepare for, and follow up on EBMs: from the American Library Association (see here), Physicians for Human Rights (see here), GW Associates (specializing in nonprofits) has useful advice on setting up an EBM (see here), and there is an excellent EBM planning worksheet on DocStoc, a website that provides all sorts of online documents (see here).

There are two sides to an EBM. The newspaper will have its editorial board (is that why it's called an EBM?), usually several persons, and the reporter who covers the beat. Those advocating before the Editorial Board will assemble a group, usually including the responsible executive (the Mayor, in my experience), and perhaps a number of others who can provide detailed answers to policy questions if needed.

As for Dr. Gallon's EBM, the newspaper account does not make it clear who requested it, but it seems possible that Dr. Gallon wanted to do some damage control.

Why was Ms. Barksdale there? Dr. Gallon can speak for the District as the chief administrator, but he cannot speak for the Board of Ed, of which he is an employee. While one might expect the Board president to be present, it is perfectly acceptable for another Board member to be delegated to answer questions if the president cannot be present (for reasons of work, say). In any event, the Board member is not there on their own behalf but only to present the Board's perspective on any questions that may arise. No more, no less.

An EBM usually, in my experience, lasts a couple of hours. Ample time is allowed for the guests to present and then there is an extended Q&A period, where the editors probe for facts and clarity. To go on for nearly three hours may be on the longish side, but my guess is that in the give-and-take Dr. Gallon's answers to questions were more florid than succinct. (Sometimes the best answers are 'yes' and 'no', more often than not honored in the breach, as I can attest.)

The beat reporter is present because they will be covering the issue from a NEWS PERSPECTIVE in an ongoing fashion. Often, they are delegated to write up a news story about the EBM itself. They may also be given future news assignments based on lines of questioning developed between the editors and the guests during the EBM. These may play out over weeks, or even months, if the issues discussed continue to be newsworthy.

Organizations advocate for their position on matters of concern to the general public and hope that one result of an EBM will be an editorial in support -- more or less -- of the points for which they have advocated. They may also hope that their issue will receive more detailed and/or sympathetic coverage in the newspaper's ongoing news reporting.

That's on the plus side. If those who press for an EBM are ill-prepared; lack documentation for their arguments; or come across as arrogant, evasive, or abusive of the public trust, they can come to rue having asked for the EBM in the first place.

What we see in today's Courier is the first installment in the outcome of the EBM. We ought to expect an editorial, written by one of the editors after discussion among themselves, to appear in the next few days.

Since the issues surrounding Dr. Gallon's tenure continue, we can also expect further, more detailed probing as the several strands come under closer public scrutiny.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Will Plainfield's Monarch condos be caught up in hedge fund mess?

The Monarch is part of a joint venture with Plainfield Asset Management LLC.

Plainfield real estate watchers have wondered for the longest time how it is that Glen Fishman/Dornoch Plainfield/P&F Management's The Monarch condo project can have escaped foreclosure, what with ONLY THRE UNITS UNDER CONTRACT and NO SALES CLOSED (latest info I have been told).

An investigation by New York City's District Attorney, joined in last week by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (see here), into a Greenwich, Conn., based hedge fund, Plainfield Asset Management LLC, may supply an answer to that question.

Will it also involve The Monarch in the mess that
Plainfield Asset Management LLC seems to be at the middle of?

Searching the web for Glen Fishman's connections to
Plainfield Asset Management LLC turns up several interesting web pages --
  • Maplewood Homebuilders; described as a joint venture between Glen Fishman and Plainfield Asset Management LLC, and noting that the joint venture bought up the bankrupt Kara Homes assets in 2007;

  • P&F Management Company, LLC; a one-page public relations piece detailing P&F Management as a joint venture based in Hillside, NJ, and established in 2005 by Fishman and Plainfield Asset Management LLC;

  • Distressed Debt and Turnaround Investment Summit; an event sponsored by NYinc in March 2009, headlining Glen Fishman of P&F Management, yada, yada, yada; and

  • Monarch Living; the website marketing The Monarch, 'luxury' condos in Plainfield, NJ, (among several other communities), a joint venture between Fishman and 'an entity affiliated with Plainfield Asset Management LLC' (P&F Management?).
So what's the deal with Plainfield Asset Management LLC?

FORTUNE magazine assigned its ace investigative reporter, Katie Benner, to the story and a 3-month investigation led to her report, which appeared online this past Friday (see here), which was picked up by the Danbury News-Times (see here) and Teri Buhl, a columnist with Hearst's Connecticut newspapers on her blog (see here).

What's the beef?

Both the NYC District Attorney and the Connecticut AG are looking into Plainfield Asset Management's distressed properties lending practices, which include sky-high interest rates (for commercial loans), forcing borrowers to pledge their personal assets (including homes), and sharp practices (such as one-day-notice audits) used to force borrowers into default. The New York investigation is of a criminal nature, according to Hedge Fund Net (see here).

This is in addition to the angst created among the hedge fund's investors over the 'gating' of their investments in 2008 -- the 'gate' not to be lifted until 2012!

Funds under management have fallen from a high of $5 billion to a current $3.3 billion, of which $2.74 billion is 'gated' and unavailable to its investors. (You may note some discrepancies about the hedge fund's assets among the websites involving Fishman listed above -- evidently no one goes back to correct any changes once info is posted.)

But there is another wrinkle, the 'Plainfield' in 'Plainfield Asset Management'.

When I chanced upon the Fishman connection in November 2008, it caught my eye, but I figured it had to do with Plainfield, Connecticut, since that was the state in which the hedge fund was located. (Besides us and them, there are Plainfields in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin that I am aware of.)

Turns out, according to Benner's piece, that Plainfield Asset Management's founder, Max Holmes, grew up in -- are you ready for this? -- Plainfield, New Jersey, the inspiration for the firm's name. His father was a proofreader at the Star-Ledger and his mother a high school German teacher and librarian.

Small world, isn't it?

So does the 'P' in P&F Management stand for 'Plainfield'?

At any rate, I'll be watching this one develop.

At the very least, we may find out why no one seems overly upset at the lingering limbo of condo sales at The Monarch.

Max Holmes, Plainfield native, Fishman partner.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Board of Ed: Superintendent Gallon's crisis deepens

Plainfield's Board of Ed kept residents, teachers and journalists waiting for an unexpected two and a half hours at Monday's special board meeting while they delved into 'personnel matters' (see notice of meeting here, PDF). T
he REALLY INTERESTING STUFF was taking place out of sight.

Three times the Board sent someone to notify the crowd that deliberations were not yet over (see Maria's riff on that here, and Bernice here). While it was a decent gesture, it hardly mollified those waiting, many of whom had not been home for dinner yet due to the early hour (6:00 PM) of the meeting.

When the Board finally convened at about 8:30, I noticed at once that Dr. Gallon was not at the table -- though his car was in the parking lot. I was told by a former Board member sitting nearby that Gallon's absence meant the Board would be unable to take any action since all Board actions have to be 'upon the recommendation of the Superintendent'.

Sure enough, Board President Lenny Cathcart made a one sentence statement that 'no action would be taken', and the meeting was summarily adjourned.

Rumors had been circulating throughout the day -- that the Jane Does were to be put out of their misery by the Board, that Dr. Gallon was trying to negotiate a settlement in exchange for his departure, that the state's investigative findings (from OFAC) were in and NOT good (for more, see Renata's blog here).

Most damning -- and FATAL, by my lights, IF TRUE -- is the rumor that Dr. Gallon had allowed a District administrator to use Gallon's South Plainfield home address to falsely register their child (or children) in the South Plainfield Public Schools while not legally resident in that borough.

Dr. Gallon needs to get out in front of this rumor immediately and quash it if it is not true.

For if it is, it means that he has broken the most fundamental bond of trust needed between a school district's chief administrator and the taxpayers, parents, teachers and students of the district -- that of unreserved support of the public school system that has employed him or her.

If it turns out to be true, it is not only a violation of our trust, it has possible legal repercussions, since the deception may be actionable at law by the South Plainfield schools.

If true, this situation, added to the lack of judgment exercised in the whole certifications imbroglio involving Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, would put Dr. Gallon in a morally untenable position.

If the state's OFAC findings point to fraudulent dealings in the hirings, Dr. Gallon, who made the recommendation to hire the Jane Does to the Board, would find himself also possibly in the state's crosshairs.

It is in Dr. Gallon's best interest to dispense these rumors with facts as quickly as he can, if he can.

If he cannot do so to the Board's, the public's and the state's satisfaction, the Board of Ed needs to dig in its heels -- out of its fiduciary duty to the taxpayers -- and JUST SAY NO.

It is unfortunate for Board members facing re-election this spring that all of this is coming to a head as we roll into the election season.

They are likely to be judged on their support for Dr. Gallon up to this point -- however well-intentioned or ill-informed -- and to be found wanting by the voters.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Will be tweeting BOE meeting tonight

I'll be tweeting from the Plainfield Board of Ed's special meeting tonight. You can follow me on Twitter at

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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BOE tonight, but will there be light on the situation?

Plainfielders looking for a little light on the schools situation may have to wait a bit longer.

Speculation is that tonight's special BOE meeting (6:00 PM at the district's administration building, 1200 Myrtle Avenue) will convene and then immediately go into executive session.

Whether or not that is the case, the notice given on the District's website (see here, PDF) advised that 'action may be taken'. If so, that action will have to be part of a public session to follow a putative executive session, so it may end up being a long night. (I saw a teacher reading a book at last week's meeting -- not a bad idea.)

Bernice isn't the only one to think that it may be a bit premature for the state to have concluded its investigation (see her post here).

Special BOE Meeting
School District Administration Building
1200 Myrtle Avenue
Monday - 6:00 PM

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Special BOE meeting Monday, is state fraud report the subject?

Plainfield's Board of Education has called a special meeting for Monday at 6:00 PM at the school district's administration building (Jefferson School), 1200 Myrtle Avenue.

The meeting is noticed on the District's website (see here, PDF), with only one item of business, a discussion of 'personnel matters affecting employees of the public body', and that 'action may be taken'.

While rumors are circulating that the State will make its report on the investigation into the question of whether fraud was involved in the matter of hiring Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 as supervisors at salaries for which neither was certified, I have not been able to confirm the subject matter of the meeting.

Special BOE Meeting
School District Administration Building
1200 Myrtle Avenue
Monday - 6:00 PM

-- Dan Damon

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Quilt exhibit and talk at Plainfield's Drake House today

Detail from the 1777 'Tree of Life' quilt.

Plainfield's Drake House Museum opens a month-long exhibit from its quilt collection today with a gallery talk by quilting enthusiast Mary Della Salla.

A dozen quilts, none of which has been exhibited for more than 35 years, have been selected for the show. The centerpiece is the 1777 'Tree of Life' quilt, the oldest in the museum's collection.

The quilt was completed in the summer that Gen. George Washington successfully fended off the British advance on Philadelphia through central New Jersey (the subject of recent news, since the historical marker plaque at the site of the Blue Hills Fort in Green Brook Park was recently stolen, see here; and $5,000 reward offer here).

Quilting is an art form going back at least to ancient Egypt, and some forms of quilts were desirable trade goods among Europe's wealthy elites in the 1400s. The 'pieced' quilt, in which the top is made of pieces of fabric, often contrasting and sewn together in elaborate patterns, dates only from the middle of the 19th century.

Della Salla will provide an overview of American quilting and illustrate various techniques with samples from the Museum's extensive quilt collection.

A reception after the talk will provide an opportunity for more detailed answers to questions visitors may have.

A donation of $5 is suggested.

Stitches In Time
Exhibit Opening, Reception and Gallery Talk
Today - 2:00 - 4:00 PM

The Drake House Museum
602 West Front Street
(At the foot of Plainfield Avenue)

The Drake House, the Museum of the City of Plainfield, is operated by The Historical Society of Plainfield,
which received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission to help fund this exhibition.
Additional funding was made possible through a grant administered by the Union County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs;
the Garden State Historic Preservation Trust administered by the New Jersey Historic Trust;
the Union County Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund;
the City of Plainfield; and the Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

'Chronicles of Plainfield' exhibit opens today

The Plainfield Public Library once again opens the treasure trove of its unparalleled photography collection, to the delight of Plainfield's history and photography buffs.

'Chronicles of Plainfield, 1870 - 1970' features previously unexhibited images of the four most important photographers in the Library's collection: Guillermo Thorn, Reina Lawrence, Paul R. Collier and Irving Georges.

The exhibit, curated by Sonja Sekely, opens today with a reception from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.

Mr. Georges will be on hand to greet visitors and discuss his photographs, which cover the most recent period in the exhibit.

In the Anne Louise Davis Gallery at the Plainfield Public Library, Park Avenue and 8th Street.

Detail from a Collier image of businesses along East Front Stree (no date).

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Congratulations Mark Spivey, 2009 Reporter of the Year!

Delicious, but you can't have one without the other.

The Courier's Plainfield beat reporter, Mark Spivey, has been honored as its Reporter of the Year for 2009.

Congratulations, Mark.

Mark's getting this award brings to mind an experience from my youth.

My first job for which I earned my own money was at the age of eight, picking raspberries on the farm of Sam and Dorothy Conti, up the road a half mile or so from our place.

It was demanding work, inching your way down the long rows on your knees in the hot sun, reaching for the berries hidden under the clumps of leaves of the low-slung plants. Not to mention the brambles that protected them and the rocky soil on which you knelt.

But you got real money for each quart picked (eventually; you got a stiff paper card on which the quantities picked were punched, with reckoning up at the end of the week when you turned the card in).

AND...all the plump, juicy and tart-sweet 'Columbia' raspberries you could eat.

As I got older, maybe 10 or so, I got to work with young Sammy and his brother John spreading horse manure on the fields.

But first we had to shovel it into the spreader. It was hard and smelly work. But if I was tempted to complain, the elder Mr. Conti, a wise and patient man who had immigrated from Sicily, would remind me to be thankful for the horses whenever I enjoyed one of the raspberries.

You can't have one without the other.

The other.

Just as in farming, so in Plainfield news gathering, you can't have one without the other.

Mark, I hope you remember to be thankful for Plainfield's 'horses'.

And congrats, again!

Making it happen.

-- Dan Damon

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$5,000 Crimestoppers reward offered in stolen plaque case

Union County Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 reward in the case of the plaque stolen from Plainfield's Blue Hills Fort Revolutionary War monument in Green Brook Park.

View and/or print the Crimestoppers flyer below.

CrimeStoppers Flyer - Green Brook Park Plaque

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

BREAKING: PBA votes 'no confidence' in Public Safety Director Hellwig

I have just been told that Plainfield PBA #19, in a special meeting Wednesday evening, voted 'no confidence' in Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig.

Sources say union members feel Hellwig misled them with regard to City Council's intentions with regard to striking a budget for FY2010, now more than half gone, concerning possible elimination of ALL captains.

Plainfield's City Council will soon have to act as the executioner in striking a budget, since Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs ducked all responsibility in the matter by deliberately avoiding submitting a budget before the November general election OR the state's budget submission deadline.

With this vote of 'no confidence' in a key appointee, Robinson-Briggs now finds herself in a position similar to that of her predecessor, Mayor Al McWilliams.

This is not a good sign as Robinson-Briggs steps bravely out into the new world of her second term.

-- Dan Damon

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Was Corzine sealing a deal with referendum non-veto?

Plainfielders following the story of the last-minute switcheroo by Jon Corzine on the anti-referendum bill get another piece of the puzzle this morning.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), lobbied her November running mate not to sign the bill, and thought she had made her case, only to discover -- 13 minutes before Chris Christie was sworn in -- that Corzine had moved the bill out of the 'vetoed' column, according to a story on PolitickerNJ (see here).

'It's bad public policy, it's bad government, it's bad politics ... to change the law to take democratic action away from the citizens is to me a rather serious step,' Weinberg said.

I'll second that.

This being New Jersey, one has to wonder whether there was some sort of deal at stake here, some quid-pro-quo between Corzine and the Democratic power structure.

What could he have wanted that was in their gift?

Perhaps we shall see soon.

(Hey, Auditor! You lookin' at me?)

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I take that back, Corzine had no testicular fortitude after all

It seems like only yesterday that Plainfield Today credited former Gov. Jon Corzine with unusual testicular fortitude for vetoing the Legislature's rush job bill that would set a 10-year interval between referendum votes on structuring local governing bodies (see here).

Actually, it was only yesterday.

My post was based on a story that appeared on the Courier's website (see here), filed as a 'staff report', a story without a reporter's byline.

I had been happy to find the online item, as I was stymied in trying to find out the fate of the bill on the Legislature's website, since I didn't have the bill number and couldn't find my way through the maze.

Turns out that Gannett's statehouse reporter Michael Symons posted an item to the 'Capitol Quickies' blog at 1:27 PM yesterday afternoon REVERSING THE STORY (see here).

Corzine did NOT veto the bill, he signed it. Take back that 'testicular fortitude' stuff. Not only that, it is RETROACTIVE to 2009, meaning the New Brunswick folks are 'grandfathered out', so to speak.

Which also means that Assemblyman Jerry Green, the 'team player', voted with the winning side -- guaranteeing that New Brunswick's voters would not enjoy a chance at the same sort of governing body representation that his hometown Plainfielders do for another ten years.

If you want to see how quickly the Legislature can move when it has a mind to (check THIS out, good government advocates), consider the history of the bill --
1/4/2010 Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate State Government Committee
1/4/2010 Reported from Senate Committee, 2nd Reading
1/7/2010 Passed by the Senate (21-15)
1/7/2010 Received in the Assembly without Reference, 2nd Reading
1/11/2010 Substituted for A4264
1/11/2010 Passed Assembly (Passed Both Houses) (41-34-2)
1/18/2010 Approved P.L.2009, c.339.

-- ONE WEEK FROM INTRODUCTION TO PASSAGE. You can also read the bill as introduced in full here (PDF).

It should come as no surprise that the 'big D' Democrats would stack the cards against 'small d' democracy if exercising that democracy impinges on their preponderance.

That doesn't make it right.

Do you suppose that the moral dunces in our Legislature will draw the appropriate conclusion from the loss of Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat to a Republican in yesterday's Massachusetts election, that voters -- across the board -- are tired of being taken for granted?

I wouldn't bet on it.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Board of Ed meeting: Fireworks? What fireworks?

[Postscript: I am told there WERE fireworks, about 10:30, brought on by a Board member -- hopefully we'll get more later.]

Plainfield was a busy place Tuesday night, with meetings of the PMUA commissioners, City Council (on Tuesday, owing to the MLK holiday) and the regularly scheduled Board of Ed meeting.

Having been bombarded with chain emails and Facebook messages, I decided to check out the BOE meeting. A teacher friend said 'fireworks' were expected.

I prepped by picking up a copy of the 50-page agenda from the Plainfield Public Library. (Olddoc compared it to a 'short novel'; reading through it, I was thinking more 'War and Peace'.)

The meeting was slated for 7:00 PM. The auditorium at the Administration building (Jefferson School) was jam-packed, with some folks standing in the outer hall. This thinned out somewhat after the dance, choral and instrumental presentations by students from the new PAAS academy and award to 'students of the month' from each of the district's schools.

The PAAS performances were all very good, but I have to say the instrumental selection -- entirely by drums and percussion -- was electrifying, kudos to the group and their instructor/leader.

At 9:30, after presentations to the Board on partnerships with Rutgers and Union County College, we finally got to privilege of the floor. If there were to be fireworks, this is where you would look for them.

Former Board member and community activist Rasheed Abdul-Haqq was first to the mike and excoriated the Board for appealing the ruling in the case of dismissed longtime employee Paul Graves (he was ordered reinstated with full back pay) instead of rehiring him. Abdul-Haqq was seconded by the vice president of PEA, the teachers union.

Katherine Cardona, president of the PEA, then approached the mike with several questions. After using up her allotted three minutes, she was granted an extension to finish.

The gist of her questions was to ask why the minutes of the contentious November 17 meeting were not online, and to suggest that the documents on 'a post' (evidently a reference to Maria Pelllum's blog, see here) 'make clear that the Board knew what it was doing' (in rescinding the contracts of Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 and then immediately rehiring them under different titles), closing by saying, 'We're not going to stand for a coverup'.

There was applause from the hundred or so still in the auditorium, mostly teachers and supporters.

That was it?


At the beginning of the meeting, I chatted for a few moments about the unresolved certifications situation with someone else who has been following it closely.

We both have the same questions we feel are yet unanswered: When
Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 were first hired back in July 2008, was the Board told by Dr. Gallon that they were certified for these positions without any backup info offered, or were Board members told they could check out the personnel files at the Board office before a vote was taken? And if the latter, did Board members perform their due diligence and check out the records? Did those records contain documents stating Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 were 'eligible' for the certifications, and if so, who issued those documents?

Simple stuff, you would think.

Same questions the state's fraud investigation is trying to get to the bottom of.

But they were not fated to be answered last night.

Not seeing the prospect of any more fireworks, I left at 10:00 PM.
The meeting lumbered on; the Board hadn't even gotten to the resolutions.

Who knows what time THEY got to go home.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two maybe-not surprises at Council tonight?

Plainfield's City Council gathers for its first business meeting of 2010 tonight.

The rumor mills have been busy over the MLK holiday weekend that there may be two not-surprising surprises this evening.

The first is that the proposed business fees ordinance -- larded with hefty increases -- may be pulled to be reworked.

The problem? Members of the business community are up in arms, feeling that they have not been consulted on the proposed changes.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs would be well-advised to reconsider and, taking up the 'improved communications' mantra of her State of The City Address, consult with these taxpayers.

The second possible surprise concerns a personnel matter, and if it turns out to be true, Plainfield's City Hall watchers may have something to be glad for.

Let me be the first to say, 'Na zdrowie!'

-- Dan Damon

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Christie's invitation to Assemblyman Green

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

When Governor-elect Chris Christie campaigned in Plainfield this past July (by chance, it was on Bastille Day), his very presence ruffled the feathers of Assemblyman Jerry Green (see my post here).

Sensing a threat to his and Linda Stender's Assembly seats from Republican challengers 'Bo' Vastine and Marty Marks (which turned out to be real, see here and here),
Green took on Christie, Vastine and Marks in an impromptu jibjab.

You can read the Assemblyman's take on the visit on his blog (see here) as well as Marks and Vastine (here) on theirs.

While Assemblyman Green tried to get the attention of the press gaggle by attacking George W. Bush (who was NOT running, by the way), candidate Christie did not take the bait, instead issuing the Assemblyman an invitation, 'Assemblyman, you can make an appointment to come down and see me in my office in Trenton in January'.

I'm sure the invitation still stands.

What will Assemblyman Green have to talk about now?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Corzine veto was the right thing to do

Plainfielders who followed the epic struggle of New Brunswick activists to bring to their city the kind of ward representation that we take for granted in our community will be heartened to learn of Gov. Corzine's veto
on his last full day in office of a bill restricting referendums on just that kind of question to once per decade (see story here).

The veto was something of a cliff-hanger as the governor had been silent on what he was going to do with regard to the bill, which had been sponsored by Plainfield's State Senator Nick Scutari and rushed through both houses of the Legislature, with the support of our very own Assemblyman Jerry Green, a 'team player' if ever there was one.

Those who recall first-year Latin will remember that 'veto' is the first-person singular of the verb 'vetare', and means, literally, 'I forbid'. In practice, the word is either stamped or written across the document.

Too bad that Gov. Corzine didn't show more of this testicular fortitude earlier in his term.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Bronze plaque stolen from Green Brook Park monument

Plaque commemorating the Blue Hills encampment (January, 2009).

Metal thieves have apparently made off with a bronze plaque in Plainfield's Green Brook Park that commemorated the site of a Revolutionary War encampment that was key to forcing the British to evacuate New Jersey.

The text of the plaque, installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1924, reads as follows --
Site of the BLUE HILLS FORT AND CAMP. This marker is erected in memory of the brave Revolutionary soldiers from this vicinity who garrisoned this fort harassing and repulsing the invading enemy for seven months during the darkest period of the war. From this outpost General Washington on June 26, 1777 finally turned back the whole British Army compelling them to evacuate the state.
When the British were attempting to march on Philadelphia from their garrison in New York, their route led them through the Plainfield area.

Patriots stationed at the Blue Hills Fort in the location which is now Union County's Green Brook Park continually harassed the British troops, preventing them from reaching the paths to Washington's lookout on the ridge of the Watchung hills (now the site of Washington Park in Green Brook). On June 26, 1777, Washington's army was able to decisively turn back General Howe's British army in a strategic victory that came to be known as the Battle of Short Hills (see here).

The site was noted by descendant Cornelius Vermeule in a 1923 speech (see here), is listed among New Jersey's historical site markers (see here), and is mentioned in both a children's guide to Plainfield's early history published by the Plainfield Public Library and written by (recently retired librarian and author) Alice DeNizo (see here, PDF) and lastly, Ledger columnist Mark DiIonno's guide to NJ's Revolutionary War trail (see here).

A large boulder has displayed the plaque since its installation and was probably kept safe over the years by shrub plantings that had become overgrown.

This 2002 view shows shrubbery overgrowth protecting the plaque.

The boulder, without its plaque, as seen Janury 17, 2010.

Metal theft is always a low-grade problem, but difficult economic times such as we are now experiencing seem to fuel theft of copper wiring, tubing, and other items that can be turned into quick cash by sale to metal recyclers -- including bronze plaques, such as the one from the park. Similar items are frequently targeted in older and unprotected cemeteries, and the theft of brass and bronze items has been termed 'a national problem' in a recent news story (see here).

Nancy Piwowar, Plainfield activist and Myrtle Avenue resident, discovered the theft on Sunday and reported it to authorities.

Something of a local celebrity for her role in recovering the two lamps flanking Plainfield's main Post Office -- stolen in broad daylight a number of years ago when the handicap access ramp was being installed -- Nancy remarked to me how different the Internet has made reporting and recovery efforts.

"I was able to get to the FBI's stolen art website quickly -- such a thing didn't even exist when the Post Office lamps were stolen," she said, noting that the Union County Police were already on the case. "Let's hope quick action and publicity will alert scrap dealers, most of whom are reputable, and that the plaque can be quickly recovered," she added.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the plaque or any suspicious activity noted in Green Brook Park is urged to contact the authorities --
  • Union County Police - (908) 654-9800
  • Plainfield Police Division - (908) 753-3131

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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