Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, July 2, 2010

Administration's financial moves spark Council fireworks

So the Plainfield City Council had two one-item meetings ('special' and 'emergency') back-to-back Thursday evening. Easy in, easy out, right?


The Administration's handling of the two items did nothing to allay the sparks that have flown recently in its dealings with the Council, erupting in real fireworks last night, before the Council was finally able to exert its authority.

First up was the (apparently) relatively innocuous adoption of a 3-month temporary budget pending the introduction and adoption of the FY2011 budget (promised by the Administration for late August-early September).

When the Administration revealed it did not intend to make its usual application for extraordinary (now called 'transitional') aid, Councilor Mapp observed that would have a double-edged impact: while the budget process might be sped up not having to wait on the state's aid figure, the discipline imposed by the state on local spending (such as eats, trips and hiring) through the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) it required of Mayor Robinson-Briggs this year would be lacking.

Councilor Storch wondered whether the Council had the power to impose restraints similar to those of the MOU on its own, to which Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson replied he 'didn't know'.

After discussions about why more money was being asked for IT staff (answer: it's a specialized civil service title which no one in the city currently has) and the Council's ability to decide the appropriate level of funding for the Library (underscored by Councilor Mapp with the assertion that he would like to see the Council limit the Administration in the next round of temporary funding to a month-to-month allotment), the temporary budget was adopted (with Councilor Rivers participating by phone).

But the fireworks erupted over the 'emergency' meeting's item: transferring unspent surplus funds from FY2010 to accounts facing unpaid FY2010 bills and charges. There is nothing new about this; it is done year after year in Plainfield and other towns.

What set off the Council was that the Administration had ignored its request to appropriate $54,000 in funds for the Historical Society to supply the missing 'match funds' for restoration/renovation work done this past spring at the Drake House.

Its entry was rebuilt with a new porch and ADA-compliant ramp (see my previous post here), which just missed being seriously damaged when one of two mighty oaks in its front yard split and fell last week, brushing the building's facade (see here).

The Historical Society folks have been trying to get the issue of the matching funds -- which they say were promised by Mayor Robinson-Briggs -- since last July. A Council majority has weighed in in favor of the funding in recent months, but the Administration has consistently refused to consider the payment.

Councilor Reid held out long and forcefully for not granting the appropriation, saying he had no proof the work was done in FY2010 (as would be required), that it met the conditions of New Jersey's public bidding law (that one is unintendedly ironic), or that the work was done properly.

Reid was adamant, despite others (McWilliams, Carter, Mapp and Storch) pointing out that it was an APPROPRIATION, not the paying of a bill, and that it was the same as other appropriations in the same resolution he was ready to approve, for bills expected to come in, but not yet in hand.

After a l-e-n-g-t-h-y debate the Council finally voted UNANIMOUSLY to transfer the funds (as amended in a motion by Councilor Storch), as requested by the Administration, with the only change being to include the Council's Drake House appropriation.

(Councilor Rivers had in the meantime joined fellow members and the table, and Councilor Burney took part via speakerphone.)

The fireworks display at Cedar Brook Park tonight can only come in a close second, if even that.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Anonymous said...

    Dan this telephone thing will come back to create a mess someday ... that is why congressman have been had to be carried in on their sick beds to vote. Although Plainfield could forge the way with facebook votes ... once it figures out how to just get email around city hall properly.