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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Council hangs tough on budget, punts on concerts

Despite concerns, Plainfield's City Council hung tough at Monday's business meeting, passing amendments that would trim the proposed budget by about $1 million.

With regard to the controversial Music in the Plaza concerts, however, they punted to newly appointed City Administrator Bibi Taylor -- passing a $40,000 appropriation, but insisting that she be 'personally responsible' for addressing their concerns about the program.

With regard to the budget, Councilor Cory Storch had worried aloud on his blog (see here) that 'special interest groups' might pressure his colleagues to breach the proposed reductions presented by the Finance Committee and that they (presumably) had tentatively agreed on at their Thursday executive session.

Following an exhaustive presentation by the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and to everyone's great relief, the proposed amendments to the budget resolution were passed -- mostly unanimously. (Let's have another go at this paragraph.... - Dan)

After a detailed presentation by
the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, the Council took up the bulk of its regular business. To everyone's great relief, when time came at the end of the meeting for the amendments to the proposed budget, all were passed -- mostly unanimously.

Because of the exhaustive line-by-line nature of the amendments, the process was an extended one, with Councilor Mapp, chair of the committee of the whole, working through the document's changes line by line. Where there were REDUCTIONS in dollar amounts, those sections were addressed with a simple voice vote. But when INCREASES were proposed, each item had to be voted on separately, with a roll call (in budget matters, approval by a two-thirds majority of the complete membership of the governing body is required for any increase). Though occasional -- and perplexing -- negative votes were cast, every proposed increase received the needed five votes.

The teamwork between Council President McWilliams and Counclor Mapp in leading the Council through this highly choreographed 'dance' put me in mind one of those flashy Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance numbers, except that in this case you could say it was Councilor Mapp who had to 'dance backwards and in high heels'.

Most of the rest of the business, including the Council's (unanimous) consent to the appointment of Bibi Taylor as City Administrator, was more or less routine.

Except, that is, for the matter of the
Music in the Plaza concerts.

Here -- except for Councilors Mapp and Burney (who had expressed his reservations on his blog here) -- the Council seemed to wimp out on forcing Mayor Robinson-Briggs to more precisely define the goals of the concerts and how their achievement would be measured, BEFORE granting funding.

CORRECTION: Council President McWilliams called to correct my misunderstanding of the concerts funding proposal (see original text below) to say that there was only ONE $40,000 amount in question, the UEZ request, which the Council approved. The SID has said they would cooperate in promoting the event, but there is no direct financial contribution being made. This means the only funding proposed is the $40,000.

Council President McWilliams, saying she had spoken with the Special Improvement District (SID) president, announced that the SID would be setting aside a little more than $38,000 toward the event.

So now we have an extraordinarily well-funded event -- more money than ever before -- with no concrete goals or plan, no promise of a minimum amount of sponsorship dollars and no resolution of the outstanding questions of when, where, what and how to promote/market the event. (For my thoughts on the matter, see yesterday's post here.)

All of which is, presumably, now being shoved onto Bibi Taylor's plate.

Of course, given the activist role Gov. Chris Christie is taking on (see today's story on his veto of UEZ funds for a Hillside program here), we may not have heard the last on funding the concerts.

Can you understand why I used the word 'punt' of the Council's action? (I had thought of saying 'kowtowed', but thought better of it.)

I can understand wanting to pick your fights, but I worry that if the Council won't hold the Mayor's toes to the fire on this relatively MINOR issue, what can we expect when REALLY MAJOR issues arise, as they are certainly bound to do now that David Brown II has come on board as the Director of Public Works and Urban Development and the development juggernaut revs up.

Or will the Council prove me wrong?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

After reading today's Ledger (re; Hillside UEZ), I'm wondering what our Governor would say about UEZ funds being spent on a concert. There's got to be a better way to aid these businesses than this concert series!

Anonymous said...

You are misinformed in regards to the Plainfield Special Improvement District’s role in the concerts. The Music in the Plaza will be funded using only UEZ and private donations, not SID funds. Plans are being made to have PSID events augment the Music in the Plaza. Because of the cooperation between Mr. Wynn and the PSID, the PSID voted to support the UEZ expenditures for the project.
Nimrod Webb
PSID President

Dan said...

Nimrod -- Yes. See the correction I posted after Council President McWilliams reached out to correct my misimpression.

Hopefully, all the attention will get the City better organized this year with regard to dates, times and promotion.

But we still don't have a clear picture of 'WHY' the Administration thinks the concerts are a good idea, and 'WHAT' they are supposed to achieve.

Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Dan, this culture of spending has got to stop in NJ. I did not vote for Christie, but from everything I see, I shoukld have voted for him. I hope he votes this $40,000.

olddoc said...

Dan your first correction was needed, since the presentation by CBAC was one of the best and most complete citizen's committee report in the history of the council and not exhausting.

As to "SID" and $38000, I also misunderstood Council President and thought she said they were going to commit up to that amount?

Downtown promotions must be part of the budget, and the Concerts can be part of the promotions. However, when this resolution was passed the public still had now idea of any cohesive plan. That is why I spoke against it.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping that the Council would hold the Mayor accountable. It has come to light that the Mayor will get an increase in her budget line - this by the Council. In addition the council rubberstamped Music in Plaza.
I had expected more from McWilliams but I now I suspect her political career is ahead of the City's needs.