The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Two more feet of snow for Plainfield?

Is Plainfield getting two more feet of snow?

My emergency weather alert emails raise the issue.

Coming in late last night was the following --

The National Weather Service is now forecasting more snow for New Jersey.

The National Weather Service's computer models are now targeting a low pressure system that is expected to form in the northeast Gulf of Mexico and then move northeast along the Atlantic coast.
So, when I went out for the morning papers, I was more than a little interested in the snowflakes that blew into the windshield as I drove down Liberty Street.

Were we getting the forecasted snow?

Already?

How much would fall?

Would it be two feet more, as some have said?

What would that look like?




Two feet of snow in Plainfield?


Oops. It isn't even March 1st, let alone April 1st.

Enjoy your Sunday -- and the visual joke, courtesy of readers Vicky B. and Dr. Ted.




-- Dan Damon
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Superstar model Naomi Sims' estate auction is today




Naomi Sims, LIFE Magazine, 1969.


Plainfielders interested in Naomi Sims, the first black superstar model, will have an opportunity to see and purchase items from her estate today in Montclair.

Sims, whose life story is inspirational (see here), died of breast cancer last summer at the age of 61. She had a red-hot career as a supermodel in the late 1960s and early 1970s, being featured on the cover of many national circulation magazines.

The estate is being auctioned at Nye & Co., 425 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair at 2:00 PM today.

Highlights of the collection can be viewed on the company's website here.




Naomi Sims and Andy Warhol, Interview Magazine, 1972.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Connolly Properties: The drip, drip, drip is worse than Chinese water torture




Pingry Arms and Viola's Place are a stone's throw from City Hall.


If Plainfield's largest landlord, David Connolly, thinks the persistent drip, drip, drip of the coverage of his property and financial woes he gets in the Courier News is like Chinese water torture, he should spend a night in one of his tenants' apartments -- where the dripping is real, continuous and unaddressed.

Here is part of an email received Thursday evening from a tenant in Pingry Arms, Connolly's property at 606 Crescent Avenue, on the corner of East 7th Street --
I should mention that Oscar Turk and the health inspector were in my building today. Our roof is leaking again and part of my ceiling in my kitchen has collapsed.

I first contacted Connolly Properties last Tuesday, Feb. 16 about my wet walls and then contacted the building inspection department. The building inspector came out last Wednesday and again this Monday. Numerous calls to Connolly Properties ended with promises of someone inspecting my apartment, but none came until yesterday when Adrian Mapp, Bibi Taylor, and the mayor got involved.

I may have to move to another apartment and I'm concerned about the work involved and that I don't want to have anyone above me. The third floor has apartment water damage and water in the hallway, the same as we have on the fifth (top) floor. Ms. Taylor and the mayor have promised their support to resolve this and have Mr. Connolly finally repair the roof correctly. (Emphasis added -- Dan).

Note the tenant says they got no action from Connolly management until Councilor Mapp, City Administrator Bibi Taylor and the mayor got involved.

Meanwhile, Plainfield beat reporter Mark Spivey reported in Wednesday's Courier on Connolly's problems at Viola's Place, across the corner of 7th Street from the Pingry Arms (see story here).

Problems here included a non-working elevator which, according to one tenant, has been inoperable for SEVEN MONTHS, in addition to a recent five-day stretch with NO HEAT (lack of heat also being a problem at Settle's Place, a Connolly building at West 7th Street and Plainfield Avenue).

Another reader, who lives in Connolly's Front Street Towers building in the 600-block of East Front Street, recently wrote on her blog about issues with a new next-door neighbor with people going in and out at all hours (an indicator of drugs or other illegal activity, in my humble opinion). Again with Connolly's management folks doing nothing about the problems.

The kicker in the most recent Courier story is that when Judge Crosby assessed Connolly Properties $910 in fines and costs on Wednesday, Connolly attorney Derek Reed asked for 'an extra week in which to pay the fines'.

An 'extra week' for an amount that should be a mere pittance for a firm managing upwards of 3,000 apartments?

Something is terribly wrong with this picture.

The Connolly Properties mess looks like a slow-motion avalanche, with the tenants bearing the brunt of the problems of deteriorating conditions in the buildings.

Can the City do more to ensure the safety and well-being of the tenants?

Should it?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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(Belated) Happy Birthday to a Texas Weiner aficionado!



Plainfield's Texas Weiner I has been servin' 'em up since 1924.


A belated 'Happy Birthday' to a young-at-heart old Plainfield friend, an aficionado of the local version of the Texas Weiner.

Looking out the window, I'm afraid the picture below is the only one you'll get to enjoy this snowy day!

Though old-timers recall Schickhaus wieners (the actually correct spelling of America's favorite sausage) were used, at least one observer believes Grote & Weigel is the brand of griddle franks in use today.

Though the Texas Weiner I on Watchung Avenue has been in business -- at the same location -- since 1924 (see my post from 2008 here), the Library of Congress credits the Texas dog as having been created in Paterson, NJ (see here).

But then, what does the Library of Congress know?





Enjoy!

Here are some comments recalling Plainfield's Texas Weiners from a post on the food blog Chowhound --

I've been gone from Jersey, since '76, but still have fond memories of the Texas Weiners in Plainfield, NJ.

In fact, I was just discussing them on Monday, with my uncle (83), and wondered if anyone knows where I can obtain some of the Schickhaus franks that they use (or at least used to use)? I've tried searching the web, but have come up empty.

Thanks,
Jack

  1. re: C. Jack Coleman II

    Try search engine google. type in Schickhaus.I tried this and found that Delicous Orchards in Colts Neck sells them.

  2. re: C. Jack Coleman II

    I just found this site that gives you the name of local dealers

    Link: http://www.freshsale.com/brandshop/b/...

  3. re: C. Jack Coleman II

    The one on Watchung Ave. is the best. I usually go there once a week. My mom still lives in Plainfield. When I go to visit I always have a couple of Death Dogs.

    1. re: Phil Rys

      I see that this review of Texas Wieners in Plainfield is many years old....but I grew up there and remember them at 25 cents for "the works"...Whenever back in town I get 8 w/the works....and eat 2 while driving back to LI and micro the rest when home....I have a recipe for a close chili sauce which is close...but the Schichouse dog cannot be duplicated...Johnny b

  4. re: C. Jack Coleman II

    Your right, the one on Watchung Avenue is the best.

    Since I moved to West Palm Beach in 74, I've tryed to find the Shickhause Natural Casing Franks. They are not sold in Florida. If anyone knows of a meat supply house in Jersey that will ship to Florida please let me know. at ABSluzenski@aol.com.

    I would also like to find out how to make the Texas Weiner sause they use at the Watchung Avenue or Rt.22 Texas Weiner locations.

    Thanks in advance
    Al Sluzenski

Note these comments on a single post span eight years, a testimony to the power of the Deadly Dog!


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

New state Dem chair to speak at Plainfield City Committee meeting



Asm. John Wisniewski, new NJ Dem chair.


Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, the new chair of the New Jersey state Democratic Party is the invited speaker at Friday's meeting of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee, according to the meeting notice sent out by Assemblyman Jerry Green, chair of the local Democratic organization.

(NOTE CORRECTED LOCATION BELOW -- 'WEATHER PERMITTING')

Wisniewski was chosen the state party's leader in January (see stories here; and here), just as the national party was stunned by the loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to an upstart Republican, and New Jersey's newly-elected Gov. Chris Christie began to wade into the state's budget deficit with bold -- and upsetting -- executive orders.

Wisniewski issued a statement last week marking the first month of the Christie administration (see here).

Battle lines, it appears, have been drawn.



Plainfield Democratic City Committee Meeting

7:00 PM

Friday · February 26, 2010

CORRECTION:
BUF
403 West 7th Street
(Parking off Central Avenue)
'WEATHER PERMITTING'


Visitors are welcome.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dairy Queen celebrates 35 years with a 'Thank You' to Plainfield


Three generations of DQ: Joe and Adele Albanese, daughter Donna, and grandson Richard.


Taking on Dairy Queen's new Plainfield store thirty-five years ago was a big gamble for Joe and Adele Albanese. The gamble paid off well, and the Albanese family -- now three generations strong -- is thanking Plainfielders for a wonderful time together with half-off on all cakes Thursday through Saturday.

Donna and her sister had been working at the Dairy Queen in Cranford when the new store on South Avenue was being built by the DQ corporation. A district manager was so impressed with the young women's business sense that he persuaded their parents, Joe and Adele, that they were just the kind of people who could take on the new Plainfield DQ operation and make it flourish.

"It was a big gamble," said Joe, "but after talking it through, we decided as a family to make the jump."

At the time, Joe was working full-time at Western Electric in Kearney (from which he eventually retired after 29 years), which meant Adele and the girls had to handle most of the operation. "We could never have done it without Adele putting in those 14-hour days," Joe said.




Donna decorates a Birthday Cake.


Today, the family business embraces three generations, with grandson Richard DeMair having taken over management of the store from his mother, Donna Albanese-DeMair.

While trying to snatch a brief interview with the family, mid-day on a Monday, we were interrupted with a steady stream of customers getting a variety of ice cream treats or ordering cakes for later pickup.

Asked about the expected response to the half-off offer on the delicious (so I'm partisan!) Dairy Queen cakes, Donna said, "Oh my God, we'll probably be swamped."

Even in these hard times, it seems folks can make room for a DQ treat.

When asked about changing tastes in ice cream treats, Donna said that while in the early days it was all about cones and sundaes and toppings, the counter business is today dominated by the 'Blizzard'.

"Kids just love getting ice cream AND a treat swirled into it," she said. (The Blizzard will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this spring, but that's another story.)

Within a short time of taking on the store, the family was approached about not just managing it but buying the franchise. About a year later, they were offered an opportunity to buy the entire building. "We were working on a shoestring," Joe said, "but each opportunity made sense and somehow we put it together."

"Just to be sure, though," Adele added, "Joe kept working two jobs for TEN years."

When it was clear the business was a go, Joe says he told daughter Donna that she was free to devote half her time to community activities.

And those who are familiar with the history of South Avenue businesses know what that means.

Donna became the motivating force -- encouraging and sometimes nudging her fellow merchants, as well as lobbying city government for more attention to be paid to Plainfield's second most important business asset, the South Avenue business corridor.

Donna and I first worked together on Mayor Al McWilliams' strategic planning initiative, which engaged more than 500 residents and business owners in an 18-month process of developing strategic goals for the city's neighborhoods and businesses.

With a light touch, a quick wit and an infectious laugh, Donna quickly became one of the leaders of the core group which nursed the process along.

The Plainwood Square Merchants Association became a model for the rest of the business community in how to organize, to be persistent and to achieve reasonable goals -- among which they can claim the South Avenue business improvement project (which updated the roadway, lighting and signage) and the creation of Plainwood Square Park from an oversize and somewhat neglected traffic island.

Besides being active in the community, the Albanese family has provided hundreds of Plainfield youngsters over the years with their first real job, their first encounter with adult responsibilities, and their introduction to the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurialism.

While the store currently has 33 employees (nine are family members), Donna is always thrilled when former employees, now parents and successful professionals or business owners in their own right, stop by with their kids for a DQ treat and catch up on the family and the local gossip.

"We're just like a really big family," Donna says.

True enough, and that's why the Albaneses better get ready for the onslaught during their 'Thank You' sale.



Take-along slips remind customers of the upcoming half-off sale.


 
-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Park Avenue subsidence: Reminder of unfinished UCIA checklist



Park Avenue begins to subside after UCIA fails to rebuild street.


Plainfield's Park Avenue between Front and Second Streets is sinking. Again.

The UCIA was supposed to reconstruct the street as part of the Park-Madison project which included constructing the new County office building, parking deck and retail buildings along West Front Street.

Emergency repairs had been done in the first term of the late Mayor Al McWilliams using some available funds. But it was acknowledged at the time that the repairs were temporary and not permanent, owing to the limited funds; only making Park Avenue safe to use until the street would subside again at some future point.

Where does the problem come from?

Back in the early 1960s, as part of the 'urban renewal' program that saw the shops, theaters and churches of the Park-Madison block razed, the awkward dog-leg intersections of Park Avenue and Front and Somerset Streets was reconfigured to remove the need for traffic-clogging double red lights.

At the time, the buildings were simply knocked down and the rubble bulldozed level and covered with fill. For years, the vacant lot was used primarily as a municipal parking lot. Under Mayor Harold Mitchell, the site was spiffed up with landscaping, a gazebo and benches, giving it a park-like air which lasted until the UCIA project.

All the while, the rubble on which the 'new' Park Avenue section was built continued to shift as air pockets collapsed, eventually leading to the emergency precipitating the stopgap repair measures.




This vintage photo shows the dog-leg intersection at Park and Front.


As Plainfield Today pointed out in a series of three previous stories (see links at bottom of this post), reconstruction of the roadbed by the UCIA was one of several checklist items from the Park-Madison development that remain uncompleted.

Here is the list (items that have since been completed are identified by text with a strikethrough) --

  • Park Avenue Reconstruction -- Not even begun, though the City already paid for it.
  • Relocation of the Park Jewelers Clock to the Plaza -- This is the famous clock from 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'.
  • Plaza Repairs (NOTE: Some have been made, but this is an ongoing problem) -- The decorative fake brick oval surrounding the center of the Plaza is ALREADY cracked in many places.
  • Streetscape -- There is a dispute over the failure to plant the Liberty Elms originally specified.
  • Use of the Plaza -- Who will issue permits for events on the Plaza, the City or the County?
  • Parking Meters -- The City was supposed to gather revenue from meters in the parking lot; none installed.
  • Parking Deck -- Citizen parking in deck on evenings, weekends is supposed to be allowed.
  • Dumpsters -- Screening dumpsters from public view has not been implemented.
Of the eight items, only two (minor ones at that) have been addressed.

Also note that there are questions about whether the project is still functioning under a 'temporary' Certificate of Compliance, and whether Plainfield is getting shafted on the formulation for the annual PILOT payments.

Time for Mayor Robinson-Briggs to revisit the unresolved issues?

Yes, hopefully before a sinkhole swallows up someone driving down Park Avenue.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Tea Party sentiment in Plainfield?




Tea Party sentiment: The Party of Hell No!


Are Plainfielders being infected with Tea Party sentiment?

Judging from the emotional temperature of comments to Plainfield Today blog posts in recent months, I wonder.

And Olddoc, in his Sunday 'Non Sermon' post (see here), touches on the issue of the temper (and content) of anonymous posters to Plainfield's active blogs.

What would Tea Party sentiment look like?

It's chief characteristics, in my humble opinion, are ANGER and OPPOSITION TO THE STATUS QUO, AS SEEN IN INCUMBENT ELECTED OFFICIALS.

In the beginning of its national expression at last summer's town hall meetings as members of Congress returned to their districts, I thought I saw the shadow of wingnut moneybags bugbear Richard Mellon Scaife hovering over the scene.

Over the weekend, I noticed a report that even mild-mannered and ever-so-decent Rep. Leonard Lance, the Republican who beat out Linda Stender for a Congressional seat, caught the dickens from some Tea Party types at a town hall meeting Saturday at Raritan Valley Community College (see story here).

The defeat of Jon Corzine can be understood with these two keys of Tea Party-ism.

As can, I think, a great deal of the commotion surrounding Dr. Gallon, the schools and the upcoming Board of Ed election.

Those who are angry are busy demonizing and sloganizing. The BOE is now the 'Board of Mis-Education' and you can forget about mentioning that Dr. Gallon has done some things right (he has! now watch me get slammed for that) as well as not-so-right.

You can also see it in comments on Plainfield Today in reference to Mayor Robinson-Briggs and her cabinet appointees. While I try to focus, as I have said before, on questions of PUBLIC POLICY and PERFORMANCE OF DUTIES, not all my readers restrict themselves to these points.

Anger is out there.

Annoyance at incumbents is out there.

Are the commenters just letting off steam, or will Plainfield experience a wave of Tea Party sentiment at the polls this spring?

First up will be the Board of Ed election in April.

Then comes the June primary race, in which the seats of Councilor Reid (Ward 1) and Councilor Burney (Wards 2/3 at-large) will be in play.

Will Plainfield have scenes of the village people metaphorically storming the castle with pitchforks and torches?

Maybe it's time to break out the chamomile tea.




Even Hillary Clinton is invoked on behalf of Tea Party-ism.



-- Dan Damon
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Plainfield's NJ Monthly standing drops from 'one of top 10' to ...



Design for banner on City Hall flaunting Plainfield's selection in 2001.


How could Plainfield have dropped so far in the NJ Monthly 'Best Places to Live!' issue?

From 'one of the top 10 best places to live' in its March 2001 issue, in the March 2010 issue Plainfield fell to ... number 543 (of a total of 566 communities ranked -- see the story here).

Plainfield still 'outranks' Newark, East Orange, Atlantic City and Elizabeth.

But what happened?

Has Plainfield really become so unlivable while we evidently weren't (or were) watching?

I don't think so.




NJ Monthly's illustration for the 'Best Places' story.


Rather, it seems NJ Monthly has clambered aboard the LISTS mania bandwagon bigtime -- with all sorts of 'benchmark' criteria by which to sort New Jersey's communities.

I suspect there are two reasons at play in this development -- 1) the magazine probably got static from some communities that Plainfield 'aced out' in 2001; and 2) the magazine has realized what a powerful (almost narcotic) draw these list thingies are as far as magazine readership goes.

Given the tough times magazines -- and all print media -- are having these days, one can hardly blame them for going the 'list' route.

Does anyone buy into a community based on the list?

Does anyone move out of a community based on the list?

You would have to believe in the 'greater fool theory'.

At least NJ Monthly has not gone to a swimsuit issue.

Yet.




Plainfield and its neighbors in the rankings (click to enlarge).


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hoboken finds Wenson-Maier brings baggage



Illustration accompanying Hoboken411 story.


How did I ever miss this one?

We all knew Jennifer Wenson-Maier, Plainfield's former Director of Public Works and Urban Development, landed on her feet in Hoboken (first reported by Bernice here, subsequently in the mainstream media here).

While I expected a reaction from Hoboken's lively Hoboken411 blog, I missed it.

Until a reader pointed it out this morning (Thanks, Pat!)

So, here you have it -- "EXCLUSIVE: Wenson-Maier brings baggage to Hoboken"

Hoboken411 credits the story as follows --
411 note: Thanks to those who helped with this story, including Plainfield’s leading Citizen Journalist, Bernice Paglia of the Plainfield Plaintalker, and a number of other sources who wished to stay off the record.
They have pretty lively comments too, check 'em out.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bus to Muhlenberg court hearing Tuesday


Sign in supporter's yard at height of closure crisis.


In an email blast Saturday evening, Plainfield activist and Muhlenberg supporter Dottie Gutenkauf advises there will be a bus to Tuesday's court hearing in Morristown, after all.

Here is the message from Dottie --
Thanks to the People’s Organization for Progress, THERE WILL BE A BUS FROM PLAINFIELD to the Appellate Court hearing on Tuesday, February 23 in Morristown. The hearing is in the Court House on Washington Street at Court Street.

Our hearing starts at 9:30 am so we will have to be there early in order to go through security, etc. The bus will get to Plainfield at 7 am and leave for Morristown shortly thereafter. We will not be leaving from our usual location but instead from the municipal parking lot on Second Street and Central Avenue. If anything changes I will send out another email—so check your email on Monday for an update, or call me Monday late afternoon or evening at 908-668-1149. The cost for the bus is $20 per person.

We will also have carpooling available—a number of people have already indicated they can take passengers. We’ll meet at the bus pickup location. For directions, go to http://www.co.morris.nj.us/maps/dirarbc.asp
These are the oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by the City as a result of the activism of supporters of Muhlenberg.

Now that Heather Howard is no longer commissioner over hospital matters, there seems to be a chance that the Christie administration will re-examine the closure process.




-- Dan Damon
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Is Sears closing its Watchung store?



Sears' Watchung store began life in Plainfield.


Plainfielders who shop the Sears store on Route 22 in Watchung may have heard rumors that the store is closing. In fact, it is repeated in an item in Advance's Independent weekly, dated yesterday (see here).

The Watchung location, which had its beginnings with the Sears store at West Front Street and Central Avenue in Plainfield, was built as the car-driven expansion of suburban shopping hit its stride in the 1960s. I was told when I moved to Plainfield that the Watchung store was among Sears' most profitable at the time.

But how times have changed. Over the years, Sears somehow lost its luster as shoppers turned away from its 'good-better-best' 3-tiered merchandising strategy to higher-end, specialized stores with flashier merchandise.

(My Kenmore refrigerator and range are still going strong after more than 25 years, though I can't say the same for the dishwasher.)

In recent years, I have hardly ever seen the parking lots full and the back lot that used to lead into the hardware and appliances department is in a pretty sad state.

At any rate, rumors of the Watchung store's demise seem exaggerated -- at least for now.

The editors at the Independent evidently did not do their homework on the Chicago Tribune's business story on Sears store closings (see here).

While the Trib mistakenly refers to a closing in Plainfield, New Jersey, it is actually the SOUTH Plainfield Sears Essentials store that will be closing.

Watchung has been spared.

For now.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

PHS Melée: Teachers offer another view




Aerial view of the PHS complex.


Plainfield High teachers have offered another view of the ruckus at PHS Friday afternoon, reported in today's Courier (see here).

The Courier story is a little vague on the timing, citing 'early' afternoon in the opening paragraph and 'near 2:30 p.m.' further on, quoting Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig. These are not the same thing from a school-day perspective.

I have been told the incident(s) began during the school's 6th Period, which runs from 11:50 AM to 12:27 PM. It was not clear whether the fistfights began in the hallway and spilled outside or whether the incident was entirely outside.

With four daily lunch sittings in the cafeteria, this was the third and all but perhaps 50 students for this sitting had entered the cafeteria when the incident(s) broke out, I am told. There was no fighting in the cafeteria.

The teachers had nothing but good things to say about how well and how quickly the school's security staff and the Plainfield police they had summoned handled quelling the disturbance. Renata Hernandez posted pictures of the actual fighting on her blog (see here).

And, while there was technically no lockdown, it is understandable that rumors of same may have gotten started by the way what happened next unfolded.

Rather than sounding the bell and moving students forward at the end of 6th Period to their next classes, everyone was held in place until about 1:20 p.m., when it appeared the disturbance was completely over.

At that point, everyone in the building was moved to their 7th Period location (meaning that the last lunch group was able to get into the cafeteria), where they remained until dismissal.

Most students seem to have been orderly and took the disruption in good stride. There is some suggestion that, except for the disruption of the class periods, teachers and students on the second floor of the complex were unaware of the incident.

I was told that the incident seemed, according to the teachers, not to be gang-related, but to stem from some bad feelings between parties taking place outside the school context.

How would a true lockdown differ?, I asked.

I was told that in a true lockdown situation, an announcement would be made over the PA system and teachers would execute a predetermined protocol -- locking the doors, drawing shades or blinds so no one could see in, and moving the class to the back of the room, as much out of a line-of-sight as possible. An all-clear to resume normal activities would be made over the PA system when the lockdown was ended.

The teachers noted that there is a disconnect between the instantaneousness of communications between the students -- with cellphones and texting playing a key role in how kids hear about what is going on and how rumors are spread -- and the top-down communications of the administration through the (now quite behind the curve) PA system.

Often, I was told, the students are more aware of what is happening than the teachers.

When I asked whether there was a system of the administration communicating with the teachers by text messaging to their cellphones, I was told a) there is no such protocol, and b) teachers are supposed to keep their cellphones off during the day.

Seems to me there is something missing from the administration's communications plan not to include the latest, all-pervasive technology.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, February 19, 2010

On the Hellwig suspension



Screenshot of CMD website.


Plainfield Today readers have asked why there has been no mention of Public Safety Director Hellwig's recent suspension on this blog.

Those who have followed the blog since its inception more than four years ago know that I focus on PUBLIC POLICY ISSUES and the PERFORMANCE OF DUTIES of public officials.

I am not interested in the personal peccadilloes of elected officials or those who work for the City, and have ignored all kinds of tips and gossip in this regard over the years.

However, a story appearing online today at the website of CMD Media, a publisher of several weekly newspapers in Union County, raises the possibility that the incident is more serious than the Robinson-Briggs administration has previously portrayed it and may rise above the level of a mere indiscretion.

Judge for yourself. You can find the online story here.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Senior Center an unmilked cash cow?



New Senior Center an unmilked cash cow?


As both the Plainfield City Council and the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs grapple with the city's continuing fiscal crisis, the question rises whether there is an unmilked cash cow lying close to hand.

Today's Courier brings news that South Plainfield's borough council is considering an ordinance to set fees on rental of its senior center to groups of all kinds (see story here).

Plainfield's new Senior Center, with its commercial kitchen, handsome amenities and (at least for now) on-site parking, might make it an attractive venue for awards dinners, birthday parties and other gatherings.

South Plainfield's proposed ordinance contains rules and procedures for use of the building as well as the following fee schedule --

• Nonresident and political groups — $500 per event.

• Local residents — $400.

• Nonprofit and civic groups with at least 60 percent of their members living in the borough — $250.

Government boards and agencies, as well as gatherings featuring seniors themselves would not be charged.
As senior center director (and borough clerk) Joann Graf said, '[w]e have to look for new ways to generate revenue'.

I'll second that emotion.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

UPDATE: Great Wall of Plainfield: Staffers barred by Gallon from NJForums



Warning message district employees received yesterday.

UPDATE: While this item was originally posted mid-day Wednesday as 'breaking' news, the details in the Comments readers have made (see here) so far raise even more questions about why the NJForums page was targeted specifically -- especially as some point out many other 'time-wasters' like FaceBook were still available. At least as of yesterday. A reader is trying to get a copy of the 'acceptable use' policy and I'll put it up when I get it. -- Dan

Borrowing an idea from China's Communist Party rulers, Plainfield Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon has put part of the Internet off limits to District employees -- specifically the NJForums on the Star-Ledger website.

The graphic above captures the message one employee received when they tried to log on to the Ledger website this morning.

The message refers to 'District Internet Acceptable Usage Policy'.

Having a policy is a good thing, and many -- if not most -- employers, public and private, develop, post and enforce such policies.

Partly out of concern that employees not while away the hours on company time, and partly to block sites deemed inappropriate (porn, online shopping, sports programming and online betting are high up on the list), such policies often detail the kinds of sites considered inappropriate.

It's also considered acceptable to warn people that repeated attempts to log on to forbidden sites will be noticed and may be punished.

What is striking IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE is that it apparently never bothered the District's administrators BEFORE TODAY that employees might go to the NJ Forums web pages.

If I were an employee, I would also worry about whether the District had secretly installed keytroke-capture software on my machine and was interested in finding out the passwords and usernames for my online accounts.

To be used for future retribution?



NOTE: For those who have never visited before, the Ledger's NJForum for Plainfield is here.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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UPDATE: Monarch condos developer defaults on Rahway project



Monarch condos sign regularly blows over in gusty weather.


Coming down Plainfield East Front Street the other evening, I noticed a lone third-floor window lit up in The Monarch condos, the development by Glen Fishman/Dornoch/P&F Management.

With only a single unit sold and closed, the project is languishing despite the best efforts of TWO local real estate powerhouses -- ERA Reed Realty and Sleepy Hollow Realtors -- to get buyers for the project.

Now comes word that the city of Rahway is preparing an ordinance to buy a vacant property that Dornoch defaulted on (see Rahway Rising, here).

How long can P&F sit here in Plainfield with all these unsold units?

How long can the City afford to wait for some ratables or PILOT payments to show up from the project?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Why no 'Transit Village' designation for Plainfield yet?




Two of four proposed areas are current train stations.


Early on in the first term of Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, I schlepped over to Westfield for an 8:00 A.M. Raritan Valley Coalition meeting at which the Mayor presented plans for 'transit-oriented development' she was going to undertake.

Her flashy foamboards held maps with four development circles scribed at ¼- and
½-mile radii from the city's rail stations.

This included former stops at Grant and Clinton Avenues that had long ago closed when the blue-collar factory workers that used them got cars after WWII and the West End factories themselves went into decline in the1950s and '60s.

If there ever was a chance those stations would be revived, recent economic conditions should act like a cold shower to awaken us from that feverish dream.

That does not, however, mean that Plainfield shouldn't have a 'Transit Village' designation.

The question is, as we enter Mayor Robinson-Briggs' second term, why don't we yet have the designation?

Especially since the concept is apparently alive and well, as witness stories about Somerville (see here) and North Brunswick (see here) in today's papers.

The designation would mean technical assistance from the state as well as attention from a Transit Village Task Force of state agencies.

Shouldn't the city be hustling to take advantage of every dollar in grants and technical assistance it can get, especially as our own budget woes are only getting worse and Gov. Christie is tightening up at the state level?

Will the proposed NJIT study position us for the designation?

Will getting the designation be a top priority for Mayor Robinson-Briggs' new Director of Public Works and Urban Development David Brown?

Will such a designation help fast-track the developments proposed by Frank Cretella?

What are we waiting for?

I hope not a third Robinson-Briggs term.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Great Wall of Plainfield: Schools Superintendent borrows an idea from China?



Warning message district employees received today.

Borrowing an idea from China's Communist Party rulers, Plainfield Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon has put part of the Internet off limits to District employees -- specifically the NJForums on the Star-Ledger website.

The graphic above captures the message one employee received when they tried to log on to the Ledger website this morning.

The message refers to 'District Internet Acceptable Usage Policy'.

Having a policy is a good thing, and many -- if not most -- employers, public and private, develop, post and enforce such policies.

Partly out of concern that employees not while away the hours on company time, and partly to block sites deemed inappropriate (porn, online shopping, sports programming and online betting are high up on the list), such policies often detail the kinds of sites considered inappropriate.

It's also considered acceptable to warn people that repeated attempts to log on to forbidden sites will be noticed and may be punished.

What is striking IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE is that it apparently never bothered the District's administrators BEFORE TODAY that employees might go to the NJ Forums web pages.

If I were an employee, I would also worry about whether the District had secretly installed keytroke-capture software on my machine and was interested in finding out the passwords and usernames for my online accounts.

To be used for future retribution?



NOTE: For those who have never visited before, the Ledger's NJForum for Plainfield is here.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Mayor provokes last-minute budget drama



Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.


As if creating fiscal turmoil by delivering her proposed budget months late weren't enough, Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs provoked last minute budget drama last night by proposing the Council vote down the budget in favor of letting her try (again) to get concessions from a holdout union.

This, despite the fact that Council President Annie McWilliams outlined at the meeting's beginning that there would be only ONE VOTE at the meeting -- to adopt or not adopt the budget proposal as amended the week before by the Council.

Declaring that the layoff plan taking effect today (which, by the way, SHE proposed in November) would introduce 'chaos' and 'a slowdown' in government operation because of 'bumping rights' (the opportunity for a person with seniority to avoid being laid off by 'bumping' someone with the same or similar civil service title but less seniority), Mayor Robinson-Briggs once again betrayed a basic lack of understanding of how the city's executive branch, for which she is responsible, actually works.

Did she not know when she proposed this layoff plan that there would be 'bumping' rights?

At any rate, she asked the Council to 'rescind the layoff plan' or 'rescind its [budget] vote for two weeks' and give her a chance to 'go back to the drawing board with the unions,' saying she would 'meet with them every single day for two weeks' to get a compromise that would avoid layoffs.

Council President McWilliams, Councilor Storch, Councilor Mapp, and -- eventually -- auditor Robert Swisher of Supplee, Clooney all explained that delaying adoption of the budget past last evening would effectively shut off attempts to wring any savings at all from the current year, thus leading to an even greater tax increase.

City Administrator Bibi Taylor even conceded that delay would harm the chance for the Council's projected savings in FY2010.

A good deal of the evening was spent hearing from supporters of the city's recreation programming, rallied to attend the meeting by Rec Director David Wynn. (Besides misinforming them about what the issues were regarding the Division's funding, one has to wonder why Wynn did not get these folks out to argue their points way back when they budget amendments were being considered.)

To casual observers, it may have appeared that Councilors Reid and Rivers were swayed by the emotions of the moment and the impact of the layoff plan toward voting against the budget.

Councilor Mapp, however, pointed out that ALL of the personnel outcomes had been exhaustively discussed previously by
ALL of the Councilors in executive session, including the difficulties posed by one union's failure to go along with the other unions in making concessions.

Councilor Storch also pointed out that only by PASSING a budget which would constrain the Administration's expenditures could the non-cooperating union be forced to the table to make concessions.

Notwithstanding, it became quite clear how Reid and Rivers were going to vote. (I sat there asking myself if this was indeed the same Councilor Reid who pounded the dais with his fist back in November, declaring that if the Administration couldn't find a way to trim the budget, the Council could and would.)

More puzzling was Councilor Burney's statement that, while he 'appreciated the hard work of the Finance Committee', he was disappointed because the budget did not reflect a longer-term, strategic outlook of five years or so.

Did Burney mean to insult his own leadership?

After all, he was Council President in 2009 and was responsible for LAST YEAR'S BUDGET'S FAILURE TO HAVE A 'STRATEGIC' OUTLOOK. Not only that, as Council President he presided over the first two months' deliberations of the budget on the table last night -- did he not make a convincing case for a 'strategic budget' when he led the charge?

Was his NO vote really principled? Or was he expressing his pique that he is not on this year's Finance Committee? Was he willing to take the heat for the implicit tax increase if the budget was actually defeated? Or did he know that passage was safe, and that he could afford to grandstand without any real consequences?

Watching budget sausage made is enough to make one cynical if one is not careful.

Eventually, after many detours -- including an extended discussion forced on Council President McWilliams between the voice vote and the roll call vote -- the budget passed, 4-3 --
For: Carter, Mapp, McWilliams, Storch

Against: Burney, Reid, Rivers
Though everyone found the budget painful, and no one was happy with it, Council President McWilliams -- a model of grace under fire -- stuck to her guns.

Now, the Council should get down to work strategizing the FY2011 budget.

(And let's not forget that we shall soon face a tax increase because of the pension-deferral option Mayor Robinson-Briggs took last year, as that poisoned pill's repayment falls due.)



-- Dan Damon
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