Delivered to 15,000 Plainfield "doorsteps" Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Sunday

Friday, March 19, 2010

Town Hall meeting has some surprises

' the cause of just and capable government'

(from the entablature over City Hall's entrance).

The first of four planned town hall meetings sponsored by Plainfield's City Council was held at the new Emerson Community School Thursday evening.

About seventy people eventually assembled to engage in a dialogue with City Council members Annie McWilliams (citywide at-large), Bill Reid (Ward 1), Linda Carter (Wards 1/4 at-large) and Adrian Mapp (Ward 3). Councilor Bridget Rivers (Ward 4) came later, and sat among the audience.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs opened the meeting with remarks about the new -- but as yet unofficial -- FiOS cable channel (Plainfield will be ch34 for FiOS viewers), the April Golden Gloves event and the expected opening of a C-town market on South Avenue, as well as having copies of her 'State of the City' address distributed to interested attendees by her confidential aide, Barbara James.

McWilliams set the tone for the evening by saying she hoped that a less formal structure with no time limit for speakers and with no topic off limits would encourage people to participate and share their concerns.

Folks practically leapt to the microphone as soon as they had a chance and there were some interesting -- even surprising -- comments, issues and ideas floated throughout the evening.

Though taxes, potholes and speeding were cited by many, most seemed to abide by an unspoken rule and did not berate the Councilors on issues that others had already expressed fully.

It is truly heartwrenching to hear stories of some seniors, living on fixed incomes with property tax bills in the range of $7-8,000 (one woman cited her mother, who lives on a monthly income of $1,300).

Everyone seemed to have a list of potholes (don't you, too?), as this is the season, but was generally good-natured about it, realizing that the DPW crews just keep plugging away at it (am I punning?). McWilliams reminded the audience that notes were being kept and items would be shared with the Administration as needed.

FLOODING: With flooding on everyone's mind, there were suggestions that the Council find out why the Fire Division no longer has pumps to pump out flooded basements, as well as exploring turning the rear parking lot at Sears into a retention basin (or swale) to manage overflow from the Green Brook during floods, easing the likelihood of street flooding in Plainfield's East End.

POLICE PRESENCE: Whether on East 2nd Street between Netherwood and Garfield where a liqour store is a constant source of problems to Milt Campbell Field, where kids and others hang out late at night and disturb the neighbors, there were concerns for more -- or more regular -- police presence in the East End.

PMUA: One resident touched on a sore spot with many -- judging from reactions throughout the room -- in bringing up the PMUA, it's fees, services and alleged poor customer relations. (In defense of the PMUA, though, it is not a good idea generally to pay this kind of bill in cash, and I find their policy that check or money order be used laudable -- at least they don't have the problem of disappearing cash the way the City does.) Councilor Reid tried to suggest that issues with the Authority should be taken up directly at PMUA board meetings, but the resident countered with 'we bring these things to you because you're our representatives, elected to help us'. McWilliams moved the item along by telling the resident the Council is looking to have a meeting with the PMUA commissioners soon and his issues would be brought up.

QUEEN CITY BASEBALL LEAGUE: With a season opening date of April 14, a representative of the QCBL urged the Council to intervene with the Administration to ensure fairness in allocation of ballfields to all who want to play. Reid referred to 'an extensive email of issues' raised with the Recreation Division, with assurances they were 'being looked into'.

TRAFFIC ISSUES: Several residents brought traffic issues to light -- one suggesting that Hillcrest Avenue be made one way AWAY FROM Front Street to remove the hazard of drivers speeding through the neighborhood during the morning rush to make the shortcut (via Raymond Avenue) to Route 22; another wants a traffic light at Netherwood and East Front, which is said to be accident-prone.

BUDGET: Arguing that extraordinary state aid was reduced to such a low prospect (if not none), the Council should press the Administration to put forward its budget proposal by September, saying 'there is no reason why it has to wait'. McWilliams, citing no mayoral election this year and a conversation with the auditors, said it was within the realm of possibility it could even be introduced in August, but certainly by September.

STATE AUDIT: Former Board of Ed member Bob Darden raised a number of issues -- bringing chuckles from all when he described turning off Watchung onto his street (Oak Lane) as 'doing the Electric Slide'. Most seriously, though, and citing the money ($4,000+, not $40,000 as folks 'remember' it) gone missing from the Tax Collector's office under Robinson-Briggs' stewardship, he called once again for a forensic audit of Plainfield's books.

SURPRISES: There were some surprising assertions and suggestions, to wit:
  • SEARS retention basin (see above), which I found interesting; it was noted that it would require joint action by the City, North Plainfield and Watchung (which is where Sears is located) as well as Somerset and Union counties -- a reminder once again of how important joint action on the Green Brook flood plain is;

  • PARK HOTEL tax status -- is the Park Hotel, which is now owned and operated as a for-profit enterprise, on the tax rolls? It seems unlikely the Assessor would overlook a taxable property, but I will be checking this one out;

  • TAX non-resident Plainfield workers -- this suggestion was made by a resident who learned about it (painfully) when working in New York City, where non-residents face just such a tax. Besides being something the Council may not have a stomach for, or the state may not allow, there would be the matter of whether administering it would be cost-effective, but I give the idea an 'E' for effort;

  • PUT CONDITIONS ON TUITION REIMBURSEMENTS at the BOE -- Bob Darden reviewed the granting of a $10,350 reimbursement by the BOE on Tuesday to an employee who soon may be no longer with us, citing a practice when he was on the board a decade or so ago, that tuition reimbursement was contingent on the recipient contracting to stay with the District for a stated number of years subsequent to receiving the reimbursement. Good idea, I thought. Checking with BOE member Chris Estevez, who was present last night, I found that it is not a policy of the BOE at present. Agreeing that it was a good idea in principle, he said he would check into it.
Council President McWilliams and the whole Council should be congratulated for setting up these Town Halls, which I think will prove to be very useful.

Here is the remainder of the schedule --
  • Ward 2 Town Hall · 7 PM · Thursday, March 25 · Cook School
  • Ward 3 Town Hall · 7 PM · WEDNESDAY, March 31 · Cedarbrook School
  • Ward 4 Town Hall · 7 PM · Thursday, April 22 · Clinton School

-- Dan Damon

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.


pat said...

From Pat Turner Kavanaugh: I heard what Dan heard. I would, however, issue a couple of warnings. This 7 p.m. forum to take public comment started at 7:20 with the mayor given time to reiterate her 1 Jan. speech. Then Councilman Reid was given time to announce his bid for re-election. (He later took time to ask the Board of Education candidates present, Cox and Estevez, to stand up and be acknowledged.) Councilwoman Carter spoke. Mapp and McWilliams were blessedly short. When I rose to speak at the microphone, I was told Assemblyman Green had precedence, and as he launched into one of his famous "I was just in Trenton...." perorations, I left. I suppose Green is more "public" than I, as in George Orwell's famous "some pigs are more equal than others." I had planned to ask why there is no handicapped parking for council meetings. I guess I'll have to ask the feds who enforce the ADA.

Maria Pellum, Plainfield Resident said...


Tuition Reimbursement is on PEA and PASA (school district 2 unions) contract. The contract is very specific on this, does the BOE needs a policy so they can follow their own negotiated contracts? Wow!

Anonymous said...

If this Council is serious about reducing the call for taxpayer dollars, it must tackle the PMUA. It is all well and good to meet with the commissioners and convey our concerns. It would be far better to dismantle this albatross and put it back where it belongs- under the city umbrella. Between elimination of back-office redundancies, the Authority's top-heaviness, and its excessive pickup schedule, the PMUA is exactly where the City can save money for its residents.

Dan said...

Thanks, Maria. To be fair, I caught Estevez when he was preoccupied with other things at the Town Hall, so maybe he didn't have a chance to run through his mental 'policy rolodex'.

Anonymous said...

The entire BOE did not vote in favor of the $10,000 plus to be paid out. It passed on a 5-2 vote, there were two members who were not there.

Anonymous said...

Save residents money by getting rid of the PMUA. Too much money is paid to this company. Stop meeting and start acting.

Dan said...

@12:22 -- I was there; I know who voted for and against and that two were absent. However, when an item passes, it is said to be a decision of the Board (or the Council, or the Assembly, or whatever). An individual member may say 'I didn't vote for such-and-such', but if a majority vote for it, it will stand up in court as a Board action.

Anonymous said...

Dan you should be more honest. Who actually voted for it. That should be cited.

Anonymous said...

At some point in time the taxpayers of Plainfield will finally understand that Plainfield is a "failed State" and as such one has no other option but to leave. Just about everyone who owns a home is here is upside down and the city is managed by a city council and an administration that does not believe they are answerable to the citizens of this city. Why continue living here? What are the benefits?
The expectation of higher taxes every year
A school system that is so inadequate only those who do not have a choice are forced to send their children to the schools and the rest of us are struggling to pay for private schools.
Property values that are not likely to climb anytime soon and it will probably take ten years if not longer to get back to 2007 levels and in the meantime your taxes will increase every year and the level of services you receive will continue to decline.
A city council that has no interest in addressing the PMUA
From a financial perspective it makes no sense to continue owning a home here. Most of us would be better off leaving our keys in the mailbox (jingle mail) and moving on. The Plainfield city government will essentially force one in bankruptcy or foreclosure anyway. Why not stop the pain now?

The only winners in Plainfield are the overpaid school board administrators, the fat cat consultants used by the city and a mayor who is satisfied to lead Plainfield down the sewers in return for personal advancement up the democratic party ladder, city council members who ultimately share her ambitions as well and an Assemblyman who clearly understands that he works for Norcross and or Charlotte but definitely not for us.

Enough is Enough!!! Wake up Plainfielders, you are on your way to losing your homes and what is left of your retirement funds because of the greed and ineptness of those who govern you.

Goodluck to all those who believe a series of meetings sponsored by the city council will actually result in anything but hot air and needless s posturing.