The needler in the haystack.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Plainfield mayor mean to baseball-loving youngsters




Robinson-Briggs aiming for 'Queen of Mean'?


Is Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs vying for the title 'Queen of Mean'?

If forcing the cancellation of one of two Queen City Baseball League games last night -- sending the affected youngsters home in tears-- is any indication, the answer is YES.

Despite appeals from the Council for the Robinson-Briggs administration to work out an accommodation between the Queen City Baseball League (QCBL) and the city's recreation division's much smaller copycat operation, last night's incident shows that Mayor Robinson-Briggs evidently has a mind of her own about how Plainfield's baseball-loving youngsters are to be accommodated.

And that is, NOT.

When four QCBL teams showed up at the Rock Avenue ballfields for their 7:00 PM ball games last night, the coaches found that the City had changed the locks to the equipment room WITHOUT NOTICE, leaving the youngsters with no access to the bases which make play possible.

While a parent was able to scrounge up a set of bases for one of the two fields, the other was left without them and the game was cancelled, the youngsters then being sent home in tears.

Although the lights were ablaze when I arrived about 7:30 PM, one of the coaches told me that QCBL was told by the City that the lights were not working. QCBL coaching staff was able to turn them on, and they certainly flooded both fields with light, so I am wondering what the ruse was about. (Besides, with the season getting under way, why wouldn't the mayor see to it that the recreation division had its fields -- all of them -- in tip-top condition?)

With more games scheduled Friday and Saturday, one can only wonder if the QCBL folks will be able to successfully work around the city's obstructionist maneuvers.

As one QCBL coach said to me, 'Regardless of how you feel about the adults working things out (meaning the QCBL and the Rec Division), why on earth would anyone punish the kids? They just want to be able to play baseball.'

Why, indeed?

Unless you had your heart set on being Plainfield's 'Queen of Mean'?

P.S. Think the Council can expect visitors at its agenda-setting session on Monday?




-- Dan Damon
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Senior Center's $287,000 surprise: Who knew what, when?



Plainfield Today readers may have guessed I am mightily irked over the $287,000 surprise bill for 'outfitting' the new Senior Center delivered to the Council at its business meeting April 12 (which I wrote about here).

As Council President McWilliams noted, it was not previously discussed by the Council before presentation of the resolution and, further, there was no money to pay for it.

The work covered by the now-tabled resolution took place last year, while Marc Dashield was City Administrator and Councilor Burney was council president and chair of the finance committee.

I think the public deserves an answer to the question of who knew what, when.

Surely Dashield must have known the work was going on. Even in Plainfield, SOMEONE must give the order to spend from the public purse -- even if they are in violation of the law by not securing the Council's approval first.

Was it Mayor Robinson-Briggs? Or did Dashield do it on his own authority?

Were public bidding laws illegally circumvented?

And what was Councilor Burney's role?

Did he know about the work being done without Council approval and fail to raise the alarum?

Or, as council president and chair of the finance committee, was he in the dark?

Either way, taxpayers have a right to ask if Burney was guarding the public purse -- every Councilor's sworn duty.

It's time for the Council to stand up and tell this Administration money does NOT get spent without Council approval. That's the law, period.

Let's hope we get some answers next Monday night.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Should Renata blog as BOE member?





Blogger and Plainfield Board of Ed member-elect Renata Hernandez announced on her blog yesterday that she would no longer be blogging and was turning the blog over to her daughter Milani Anaise (see the post here).

My first reading of the post gave me the idea that she was being pressured to give up the blog. Here is what she said --
...to avoid even the slightest hint of impropriety I think it prudent that I give up the keyboard during my term on the Board of Education. I'll have to look for opportunities to write on behalf of the Board because when you love to write you can't just NOT write!
I posted the following comment as soon as I read the post --
Renata -- If someone 'leaned on you' not to continue blogging, shame on them!

No elected official needs to give up the right to express themselves on matters of importance to the community -- witness the fact the four of our City Council members blog on matters of public policy of concern to residents.

Of course there are topics that are off-limits (stuff discussed in executive session), but every issue that comes before a public body on which an elected official will participate in discussing and acting on is fair game for blogging, too.

I see no reason for you to give up blogging; Plainfield will be the worse off if you do.
(April 28, 2010 9:27 AM)
But Renata set me straight --
Hey Dan -- I don't exactly allow folks to "lean on me" at all. It was a matter of wise council.

I will continue to write because I think the public needs to stay informed but it will take on a more "formal" approach as oppose to a "my view" in totality.

Stay tuned...
(April 28, 2010 11:56 AM)

So, it looks like we will be able to catch Renata on Board of Ed -- and Plainfield -- matters after all, just not on a regular basis.

Good.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Gallon and pals: Is there a Google search in their future?




Plainfield schools superintendent Steve Gallon III.
(Photo: Wisconsin State Journal)


Plainfield schools superintendent Steve Gallon III and his pals Kemp, Borge and Kelly may well wonder if there are Google searches in their future.

Yesterday's Ledger weighed in with an editorial (see here), which with the Courier's earlier editorial (see here) makes him 0-2 in the mainstream media sweepstakes.

As the pressure continues for Gallon to be replaced as schools superintendent -- whether by resignation or removal -- the thought of future prospective employers Googling his name as part of the screening process for a job may give him pause.

Here is what Google turned up today --
  • Steve Gallon (see here) 2,700 items
  • Angela Kemp (see here) 1,010 items
  • Lalelei Kelly (see here) 627 items
  • Lesly Borge (see here) 682 items
Hindsight being better than foresight, Gallon may now wonder whether it was so wise to get started with this whole 'shell game' (the Ledger's term) from the outset. Too late now.

In the old days, folks used to just pull up stakes and move to another part of the country and reinvent themselves.

Not any more.

Those Google results will be there forever.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PHS student walkout: A 'teachable moment' missed?




PHS students carried placards protesting funding cuts. (Photo, DD).


Hundreds of Plainfield High School students joined thousands across the state early Tuesday afternoon to protest Gov. Chris Christie's proposed school funding cuts.

The event grew out of a Facebook page (see here) put up by Michelle Ryan Lauto, a college student who graduated from a Bergen county high school.

In an update to her page on April 24, Lauto outlined her view of what is at stake in Christie's budget cuts, posted links to a variety of background resources, and urged all to make it a meaningful -- and peaceful -- protest. At that point there were already 15,000 'fans' of the site; as of this morning it is showing over 18,000.

I ran into Courier beat report Mark Spivey covering the PHS walkout (see his story here), but had little time to chat. While it was rumored the students wanted to march from the high school to City Hall and rally there, it soon became evident they would limit the walkout to the sidewalks outside the school building. (Mark reports overhearing a cop saying students would be taken to police headquarters if they left school property.)

As WPIX (Channel 11) reported, the Facebook page was put up before the BOE election of April 20 (see here), meaning school districts and public safety agencies had over a week to prepare for the walkout.

Schools Matter, a widely read blog that 'explores issues in public education policy' discussed the impending walkout on Saturday (see here), quoting in its entirety a Record story that appeared on Friday. So, the word was out there plenty in advance.

There was more than enough time to develop a coordinated plan of action between school security personnel and the police to allow the students to exercise their First Amendment rights while keeping them safe and the walkout orderly. That it did not seem to fall out that way in Plainfield could be judged from the screaming sirens heard all over the area as police patrol vehicles raced to the high school as if on the way to a major accident scene.

While Christie spokesperson Michael Drewniak predictably tut-tutted that students should have remained in the classroom, the Ledger's Kelly Heyboer (see here) and the New York Times (see here) both saw the walkout as a giant civics lesson, driven by the instant communication of the Internet.

I would add to that the 'crowdmobbing' aspect of text messaging, which several teachers reported to me helped spread the word among PHS students Tuesday.

I'm wondering if a 'teachable moment' was missed. Actually, two.

As Spivey reported in the Courier, and the other stories cited here show, the students approached the matter as one with an important impact on their education -- from possible teacher cuts to the loss of programs and extracurricular activities.




Hundreds of PHS students protested the budge't impact on the schools. (Photo, DD).


There certainly was an opportunity for schools Superintendent Steve Gallon to turn this into a 'teachable moment' for the entire student body.

With all the advance notice, why couldn't special preparations have been made to allow concerned students to gather in the auditorium after their walkout for a session where students, teachers and public officials could engage in bringing the issues into a sharper focus and perhaps channel the energy of the students toward some ongoing activity to promote the schools' interest in the current budgetary situation.

Remember the 1960s 'teach-ins'?

The second 'teachable moment' that appears to have been lost is that once again school administrators have shown themselves to be dinosaurs in the age of the Internet. The whole business was developing in plain sight, under their very noses as it were, yet it seems the District acted as though caught by surprise.

Do these folks know how to make use of the social networking tools that kids turn to so naturally? If not, are they letting themselves -- and the taxpayers -- down?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NFL's Eugene Monroe, PHS grad, hosts football camp at Hub-Stine





Plainfield High School grad and 2005 All-American lineman Eugene Monroe will host a two-day football camp in July at Hub-Stine Field (see more here).

Monroe, now a defensive tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars, will host the two-day camp on July 17 and 18 at the city school district's athletic field on Randolph Road.

The camp is open to Central New Jersey youngsters.

Slots are available for a one-day camp for youngsters aged 6-12 at $35 per person. The full two-day camp is available to those aged 13-18 at $80 per person (a group discount is available for five or more students from the same school). Registration details can be found here.

Tip: Early registration will guarantee a space.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Board of Ed email policy: Easy as it seems?




Devising adequate email policies may not be so easy.


Days before Plainfield's Board of Ed election, candidate Renata Hernandez (now Board member-elect) posted to her personal blog (see here) on the matter of a policy proposal on the April 13 BOE agenda --
Embedded in the Agenda from last Tuesday was the revamping/creation of Policy number 4119.26/4219.26.

If we followed normal procedures this would not even be entertained until the NEW Board gets seated. However, if a special meeting is called prior to the swearing in this could certainly be approved by this rubberstamping rag-tag bunch.

Board Members -- Industry-wide Best Practices: Personal Emails are deleted after 1 Year and HR Records are maintained for at least 15 years.
On Election Day itself (4/20), Plainfield Today got the following anonymous comment, not posted online as it was not germane to the topic that day --
You are forgetting about the most recent policy that went to first read, the deletion of e-mails. That is a violation of the records retention law. There are too many lawsuits the district is currently involved in, and to delete all e-mails shows there is something to hide, and, oh yeah, it's illegal.
The commenter is remarking on the same matter as Ms. Hernandez, listed on the April 13 agenda as '4119.26/4219.26: Staff Use of Internet Social Networks and Other Forms of Electronic Communication' (see page 49 of the agenda, which can be found here - PDF).

While Ms. Hernandez is worried that policy might be acted upon before she is seated on the Board, I don't believe that is likely (and a policy matter would not qualify for the closed session slated for April 27th).

The matter of whether the policy is 'illegal' as the commenter says or does not comport with 'industry-wide best practices' as Ms. Hernandez holds needs to be looked at more closely.

Any discussion of email retention by a public body, such as the Board of Education, must begin with the policy position of the State of New Jersey.

At present, that policy is framed by the Division of Archives and Records Management (DARM) and is known as 'Circular Letter 03-10-ST: Managing Electronic Mail: Guidelines & Best Practices'. The complete document can be found online (see here) and is available for download in both MSWord and PDF formats. DARM is the state's rule-setter in this matter, and it does not countenance 'best practices' by private industry or any other body.

PUBLIC RECORD OR PRIVATE EMAIL?

The letter states clearly that it is not the fact of an email being sent that makes it a public record, but WHAT IS DISCUSSED in the email and WHETHER IT INCLUDES AN ATTACHMENT (such as a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet or a PDF file) which is CONCERNED WITH THE PERFORMANCE OF OFFICIAL BUSINESS -- in which case the email in question becomes a PUBLIC RECORD, subject to DARM's retention policies.

The circular letter is also quite clear about emails that DO NOT CONSTITUTE A PUBLIC RECORD --
1.5.1 Non-Record E-mail Messages
E-mail messages that do not meet the criteria of the New Jersey statutory definition of a record per N.J.S. 47:3-16, as amended, may be deleted at any time, unless they become part of some official record as a result of special circumstances. These types of messages may include:

1.5.1.1 Personal Correspondence
Any e-mail not received or created in the course of state business, may be deleted immediately, since it is not an official record. Examples of the type of messages that may be deleted are unsolicited e-mail advertisements, commonly called “SPAM,” personal messages, or the “Let's do lunch” (not a State-business meeting over lunch) or “Can I catch a ride?” type of note. (Emphasis added -- DD)
So, it would seem that a policy by the BOE regarding personal emails that requires their retention for ANY LENGTH OF TIME goes beyond the clear policy of DARM, which sets the rules, and may be subject to challenge on the ground that these may be deleted AT ANY TIME. Such deletion does not carry with it any suggestion of stigma -- that is, that deletion implies there is 'something to hide'.

Quite straightforward.

But let's consider an example that complicates matters somewhat.

Suppose Employee A had a responsibility to complete and submit a spreadsheet by a certain due date -- whether to a superior, a team member, or to the state -- as part of
Employee A's official duties.

Suppose also that it was due on a Monday at 9:00 A.M. and was finished by the end of work on the preceding Friday.
However, at the moment they attempt to send the email and attachment, they find the District's email service down. Employee A emails the completed spreadsheet as an attachment to the designated recipient BY USING THEIR PERSONAL THIRD-PARTY, PASSWORD-PROTECTED EMAIL ACCOUNT (such as Gmail or Yahool Mail) from their work computer.

By doing so,
Employee A has now made A PUBLIC RECORD out of an email on their PERSONAL EMAIL ACCOUNT.

As a public record, it is required that it be archived in keeping with DARM's retention policies.

Who will do the archiving? The employer (in this case the BOE)? It may not be that simple. The employee? What guarantee is there the employee will properly archive the email?

THE NJ SUPREME COURT STEPS IN

On March 30, 2010, in Stengart v. Loving Care, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that employees have 'a reasonable expectation' that their personal emails will not be read by their employer. (See news coverage here, and a legal analysis here.)

While the question adjudicated was one of an employer systematically going through an employee's personal email, the issues still arises in the case of Employee A: How will the
PUBLIC RECORD that Employee A has created on their PERSONAL EMAIL ACCOUNT be properly identified and retained per DARM requirements?

This is uncharted territory, and any email policy needs to be carefully planned out, with an eye to potential litigation over the 'grey area' of personal emails on work computers.

A POTENTIALLY MORE TROUBLING ISSUE

There is, at least to my mind, an even more troubling issue.

While it is laudable that the BOE's Policy Committee appears to be addressing the issue of PUBLIC RECORDS RETENTION, the policy appears to have a major shortcoming.

You will note that the policy is identified as
'4119.26/4219.26: Staff Use of Internet Social Networks and Other Forms of Electronic Communication'.

The 4000 series in the District's policy manual deals with policies concerning INSTRUCTIONAL AND SUPPORT PERSONNEL (see here).

This is all well and good, but experience shows time and again that the REAL PROBLEM in the matter of retention of PUBLIC RECORDS created by email has to do with the determination of the EMAILS OF ELECTED OFFICIALS THAT QUALIFY AS PUBLIC RECORDS and their proper retention.

Glancing further down the policy manual, you will find that the section that deals with the Board of Education itself -- the 9000 series -- contains NO POLICY WHATSOEVER concerning emails.

This is a glaring omission, one that the new Board will have a chance to correct, thus delivering on their promises of 'promot[ing] trust, transparency and respect' and 'establishing policies and practices that govern with integrity and accountability'.

And that would send a good message to the community about the new Board's integrity.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Drake House steps up to accessibility issue




The old stoop is being replaced with a spacious porch
and accessibility ramp.



As we all know, in Plainfield nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Take the capital improvements at the Drake House, the city-owned historic house and museum.

Stopping by to snap some pix of the lilacs blooming in the dooryard, I got a chance for a closeup peek at the new porch and ADA-compliant accessibility ramp being installed along the front of the house.

Visitors will no longer have to queue up on a tiny, postage-stamp sized stoop to get in the front door when popular exhibits open. Nor will those with special accessibility needs have to figure out how they're going to get in the museum -- the gently sloping ramp will address that issue (however, there will still be those daunting stairs to the second-floor gallery).

The porch renovations are part of a long-term capital improvements program, the gathering of funds for which began under during Jean Mattson's term as president of the Historical Society. Prior work done included updates to the heating system and installation of unobtrusive air conditioning as well as electrical upgrades.




Here is a good view of the ADA-compliant ramp.


Chatting up a board member at a party the other evening, I learned that the Historical Society, which manages and operates the Drake House Museum under a lease from the city, is looking for monies to match the $52,000 'Preserve Union County' grant received from the Freeholders as part of Union County's Open Space Trust Fund.

That match was a condition of the original grant made last fall, but no one is quite sure how the Historical Society got the grant without the match being in place, as is usually required by grantors.

April's agenda-setting session of the City Council had an item for a presentation/discussion on the Drake House, but no one from the Historical Society appeared, so there was no discussion.

From a query to a Council member, I learned that there are discussions ongoing about whether and how to fund the matching amount, but they are not yet resolved.

At the same time, I learned that the city's long-term lease with the Historical Society to operate the Drake House has expired, and will be the subject of a review -- with an eye to possible revisions to update it -- over the coming months.

All this because I stopped by on a sunny afternoon to take a snapshot.

That's life in Plainfield.




A snapshot of the lilacs that started it all.
(That is not a helicopter, it is a bee -- as caught by my cellphone camera.)




A bright red sign alerts passersby to
Plainfield's Drake House Museum.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Is that giant, green potatoes?




Sign in Plainfield supermarket window.


Plainfielders shopping for bargains at a local supermarket may have done a double-take when passing the above window banner for potatoes on sale.

Are those giant Idaho baking potatoes that happen to be green? (Which the image's coloration sort of suggests.)

Or are they a famous brand-name that has been bifurcated?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, April 23, 2010

PSO ends 90th season with Verdi's 'Requiem' Saturday



The Plainfield Symphony Orchestra will close its 90th season with a performance of Verdi's 'Requiem', in which it will join forces with the Crescent Choral Society.

While the 'Requiem' is thoroughly operatic -- it is Verdi, after all -- it has inspired generations with its emotional settings of the traditional texts of the Mass (see an appreciation here).

Come, be inspired by great music as the PSO closes its 90th and heads confidently into the last decade of its first century.




Plainfield Symphony and Crescent Choral Society

Verdi Requiem


Saturday | 8:00 PM

The Plainfield Symphony Orchestra and the Crescent Choral Society join forces
to perform the incomparable Verdi Requiem with four stellar soloists.
Tickets: $25 general admission; Seniors/Students $15; 12 and under FREE.
Info: (908) 561-5140 or 756-2468, www.plainfieldsymphony.org/ or crescentconcerts.org/
Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church
East 7th Street and Watchung Avenue
(parking in lot on First Place or at Swain Galleries)



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Earth Day in Plainfield: The Green Brook bike trail




Councilors Storch and Mapp were joined by Darlene McWilliams
for an interview by the Courier's Mark Spivey (back to photographer)
.


Plainfielders might be surprised to learn that the city's most rural, idyllic spot is in the Fourth Ward, where the city's long-hoped-for Green Brook bike trail will connect to the already existing trail in Green Brook.

Councilor Cory Storch arranged for the Courier News to cover the expected start -- at last -- of work on the trail as one of the newspaper's Earth Day 2010 stories.




The Green Brook is idyllic where the three towns join.




Plainfield's segment of the Green Brook bike trail
will run along the edge of the brook on the right.





This renovated Victorian farmhouse, with its intact carriage house, abuts the trail.


The trail, planning for which received encouragement from the late Mayor Al McWilliams, himself an avid biker who could be seen riding everywhere in the Queen City, is proposed to run from the juncture on Jefferson Avenue of Plainfield, Dunellen and Green Brook eastward along the entire course of the brook separating Plainfield from its northern neighbors to a terminal point at Terrill Road.

Storch was joined by Councilor Adrian Mapp and Darlene McWilliams, widow of the late mayor. As I was about to leave, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt and City Administrator Bibi Taylor arrived for the event.

Councilor Storch wrote up the event on his blog (see here) and the Courier's Mark Spivey reported it here.

Read the coverage and take a ride over to see this charming corner of Plainfield (Jefferson Avenue, which divides Plainfield and Dunellen, starts at West Front Street near the old National Starch plant).

You will be refreshed and eager to see this beneficial project get under way.




Follow Jefferson Avenue from West Front Street to the trail's end.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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How to contribute to the Plainfield Rescue Squad



The Plainfield Rescue Squad responds to emergencies,
as here on Wednesday, when a man was struck down on Front Street
.


Plainfield Today reader Pat Turner Kavanaugh reported, in response to Thursday's post about the pedestrian struck down on Front Street (see here), that she had difficulty getting her contribution to the Rescue Squad (seems the Post Office will only deliver to the POBox, not the street address).

Here is the contact information for making contributions to the Plainfield Rescue Squad, as laid out in a recent post on his blog by Councilor Rashid Burney (see here) --
  • Mail a check to: Plainifeld Rescue Squad, 700 W 7th Street, P O Box 707, Plainfiel NJ 07060

  • Drop off a check at: Pillars B&B, 922 Central Avenue, Plainfield

  • Drop off a check at: Graphix One, 321 Park Ave, Plainfield

  • Drop off a check at: Dairy Queen, 1367 South Avenue, Plainfield

  • Finally you can make a contribution on-line via Paypal.com: Simply go to Paypal and send money to plainfieldrescuesquad@yahoo.com.
Your contributions will ensure the continued presence and service of this 60-year old Plainfield organization, more important than ever with the loss of Muhlenberg as a critical-care hospital.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pedestrian struck down on Front Street




Plainfield Rescue Squad EMTs prepare to 'board' victim.


A pedestian was struck down by a motorist in Plainfield's downtown shopping district Wednesday afternoon, directly in front of the Health Foods store.

The Plainfield Rescue Squad and a MICU unit were on the scene within minutes of the mishap.

Police had blocked Front Street between Watchung Avenue and Church Street and by the time I found parking behind the Family Dollar store and hauled over to the street, the EMTs were preparing to place the victim on a board preparatory to moving him to the ambulance.




EMTs from the Plainfield Rescue Squad transfer victim to ambulance.


It was quite amazing to watch the measured precision of the EMTs as they assessed the situation, apparently tending to items on a mental checklist, coordinated the effort to strap down and move the victim, and tended to such side details as his personal belongings (in this case, his shoes, stowed in a plastic bag) and his personal identification.

One of the PMUA's mobile sidewalk attendants did his bit too, sweeping up bits of paper discarded by the EMTs in doing their job.

Onlookers told me the pedestrian had stepped out between two parked cars in front of the Health Foods store to cross the street when he was struck by the late model silver four-door sedan. The force of the impact knocked the man perhaps 8 or 10 feet from where he was struck, evidently causing him to lose one shoe, which was seen lying in the street.

Within minutes, the victim had been taken away in the Plainfield Rescue Squad ambulance, the MICU unit was gone, a cop had pulled the sedan over to the side of the roadway to finish writing up the accident report and the cop cars blocking the street had disappeared, leaving backed-up traffic to flow through the downtown artery once again.

By the time I got back to my car, the knots of onlookers had dispersed and Front Street looked as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.





A mobile intensive care unit (MICU) from Muhlenberg also responded.




Plainfield police officers investigate the accident.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BOE Race: Losers win and winners lose




Photos of the S.L.A.M. team from their website.


Congratutions to the winners in Plainfield's school board election, the S.L.A.M. team of Wilma Campbell, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Renata Hernandez and Keisha Edwards (see the unofficial tallies here).

While the rest of her team won large pluralities that put them on the Board, Wilma Campbell appears to be the only candidate to win a true majority of the votes by a small margin.

Candidate Mary Burgwinkle said to me last night, "The bad news is that we (the Coalition for Better Schools team) lost...and the good news is that we lost."

What she meant is that all of the losers, though they were willing to take up the challenges facing the Board, will be spared the avalanche of concerns and issues now facing the victors.

It is a sobering list indeed.

While dealing with Superintendent of Schools Steve Gallon III and his assistant Angela Kemp, who was ordered to forfeit her job but seems still to be on the payroll, may be near the top of the list of items to be addressed, there are others, perhaps even more serious.

Such as the BUDGET, defeated at the polls by a mere 85 votes.

After the vote is certified next week, the District must deliver the budget to the City Council, which can reduce the budget or leave it as it is. While the Council can recommend specific items for action, the only thing the District MUST DO is accept the dollar figure for the budget -- leaving it room to make its own decisions about any cuts. The District may also appeal the Council's budget decision to the State, which would make a final determination.

All of this will take time, and without a budget, the District's staffing decisions -- including layoffs -- may be up in the air. Delays can impact the ability of employees eventually laid off to apply for jobs in other districts in a timely fashion.

Another high priority will be executing the CORRECTIVE ACTION PLAN mandated by the state's OFAC report dealing with appointments held by employees without proper certifications.

But these are hardly the only matters the new Board majority (aligning with incumbent Lisa Logan-Leach) will have to address. Others include --
  • Executing a long-sought contract with the teachers union, PEA;

  • Settlements and reinstatements ordered by Administrative Law Judges in several cases;

  • Development of a much-delayed District-wide curriculum;

  • Dealing with unresolved overcrowding issues in buildings converted to the K-8 configuration;

  • Finding resources to complete much-needed but stalled school construction projects; and

  • Controlling outrageous -- and mushrooming -- legal expenses;
If the new Board moves to terminate Gallon's contract, there will be issues of whether to buy him out and how much that will cost the taxpayers, plus how to conduct the search for a new Superintendent.

Whether or not the new 5-vote majority will sustain itself in the face of these complicated and thorny issues, it will also have to deal with the new -- and decidedly less forgiving -- landscape in Trenton.

Gov. Christie is sure to make much of the school budgets defeated in yesterday's votes (among which was Plainfield's) and the war he is waging against the NJEA, the statewide teachers union, shows no signs of abating.

If the new Board majority is constrained by the PEA endorsement it received to give the local teachers union its unwavering support, one has to wonder if Plainfield taxpayers will be the losers if Christie continues to push back.

To top it all off, the S.L.A.M. team must face its biggest loss of all -- its OUTSIDER STATUS.

No longer will Campbell and Logan-Leach be voices crying in the wilderness. No longer will they be able to bask in the glow of having been overruled by the majority. They are now the majority. They will now be the ones on the accountability hot seat.

Let's hope they live up to their campaign language.

It could only be good news for the school district, the students and Plainfield taxpayers if they do.







The platform laid out on the S.L.A.M. website.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Plainfield BOE Election: The tape's tale


Unofficial tallies in Plainfield's school district race and budget referendum. The total number of votes cast was 2,820.

2010 BOE ELECTION

3-YEAR SEATS
TOTAL
CAMPBELL*
1,455
ABDUL-HAQQ*
1,068
HERNANDEZ*
1.025
HENDRICKS
762
COX
650
FLETCHER
639
BURGWINKLE
626
CALLANDS
590
ESTEVEZ
584
CRITTENDON

347
1-YEAR SEAT

EDWARDS*
1,057
TUCKER
677
PILE
446
RILEY
186
*Denotes winner.

2010-11 BUDGET

NO: 1,027
YES: 942



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Who to blame in today's election




If you think change is needed in Plainfield's school district, whether how it is governed or how it is managed, you need to vote in today's Board of Ed election and budget referendum.

The polls are open from 2:00 - 9:00 PM at your usual polling place.

Don't forget the budget question (see more details here), on which I am recommending a 'YES' vote.

CHRISTIAN ESTEVEZ (# 3), the only incumbent running for re-election who has actually succeeded in doing something about executing his committee responsibilities (Policy) is getting my vote, despite having made an ill-advised vote -- in my book -- in the personnel mess.

MARY BURGWINKLE (# 8), a
straight-arrow and experienced attorney who will sink her teeth into issues like a bulldog should scare the bejesus out of anyone -- Board or Administration -- that thinks go-along, get-along should be the rule, and she gets my vote, too.

CARMENCITA PILE (# 11), who is preparing to enter five children she is adopting into the schools system, gets my vote; DENISE RILEY (# 14) would also be a worthy 1-year Board member.

As for the other three-year seat, I will be deciding between DANI FLETCHER (# 7), JACKIE CALLANDS (# 5) and RASHEED ABDUL-HAQQ (# 10).

Whomever you decide to vote for today, you know who to blame if you DO NOT VOTE.



BOARD OF EDUCATION ELECTION
AND SCHOOL BUDGET QUESTION

Tuesday, April 20
2 - 9 PM
At your regular polling location



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Vote on the school budget


Besides a contentious Board of Ed race, voters will be faced with the school budget question.

The table below summarizes pertinent facts --


PROPOSED
CURRENT
BUDGET1
$145,002,375
$153,821,983
TAX LEVY2
21,848,819
19,862,563
PROPOSED JOB REDUCTIONS
108


1
Includes State aid.
2Amount to be raised from Plainfield taxpayers.


T
he proposed budget reflects REDUCED state aid. The proposed tax levy reflects the STATE-MANDATED INCREASE for former Abbott District Schools.

I recommend a YES vote on the budget.


BOARD OF EDUCATION ELECTION
AND SCHOOL BUDGET QUESTION

Tuesday, April 20
2 - 9 PM
At your regular polling location



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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

What is at stake in Tuesday's school board election?





What
is at stake in Tuesday's Plainfield school board election? A lot, but not everything.

The Plainfield public schools are under a state mandate to correct some of the abuses that have plagued its personnel decisions in recent years, and that -- limited as it is -- is a very good thing.

The Board of Ed will also be conducting its evaluation of Dr. Gallon's performance, which must surely be impacted by the protracted revelations of personnel shenanigans and the spotlight cast on the situation by the state's OFAC report.

So, no matter who is elected in tomorrow's Board of Education elections, positive changes will be coming to the District. Sadly, they will not be because the Superintendent or the Board took the initiative.

What to make of some of the issues swirling round this year's campaigning?

ENDORSEMENT POISON?
There has been something of a flap over the weekend concerning UNION ENDORSEMENTS of two of the slates subsequent to the League of Women Voters forum last Wednesday (for candidate answers to the LWV's questions and their self-submitted profiles, see the LWV website here).

On Friday, Renata Hernandez (one of the Elect a Grand S.L.A.M.) candidates reported the team's endorsement by the teachers union, the Plainfield Education Association (see here).

Over the weekend, potential voters received mailers from two other unions. Service Workers United (SWU) endorsed the Coalition for Better Schools slate. SWU represents cafeteria workers in Plainfield who are employed by Sodexo, an outsourced service. Their contract is between Sodexo and the union, and does not involve the school district.

The state AFL-CIO also send out an endorsement of incumbent Christian Estevez. The AFL-CIO does not have any contracts before the Plainfield school board. Those endorsements are discussed on the team's campaign blog (see here).

Endorsements are a longstanding practice that is entirely legal.

Some have raised the question of whether they might involve recipients of the endorsements in an ethical tangle that could lead to 'sweetheart' contracts.

The ONLY endorsement that could possibly go in this direction is that by the Plainfield Education Association's endorsement of incumbent Wilma Campbell and teammates Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Renata Hernandez and Keisha Edwards.

Bear ALL OF THE ABOVE in mind when weighing endorsements as a factor in your decision.
SHOULD THE INCUMBENTS GO?
Whenever there is controversy, incumbents often take the hit for it, whether blameless or not.

Three Plainfield Board of Ed incumbents are running for re-election: Martin Cox, Wilma Campbell and Christian Estevez. (Cox and Estevez are running on the 'Coalition' slate and Campbell is on the 'S.L.A.M.' team.)

Each incumbent can point to District achievements during their time of service, particularly adopting a K-8 configuration that will eliminate the Middle Schools; a district-wide school uniform policy; and removal of PHS from the state's 'persistently dangerous' list.

That being said, each incumbent is embroiled in some of the issues churning this election --
CURRICULUM: Wilma Campbell has chaired the Curriculum committee for years, yet there is no district-wide curriculum in place and the public only learned at the LWV forum that she has had problem with cooperation from District administrative leadership since last October. Why was she not bringing this up at each and every public Board meeting, instead of waiting until it came up in the campaign. (Incidentally, Campbell -- who was one of the 3-member team to visit Gallon in Florida and positively gushed in favor of his appointment -- has never really explained how and why she became his antagonist.)

PERSONNEL: With regard to the flim-flammery of Dr. Gallon's three ill-fated appointments, the best that can be said of Cox's and Estevez's initial support in 2008 for the appointments is that they took the Superintendent's word when we now know they should have probed further. But to rehire two of the uncertified administrators in late 2009 the same night as their contracts were rescinded as a result of the County Superintendent's intervention looks like boneheadedly poor judgment.

While Estevez has said he was not one of the four Board members who were briefed on the personnel mess by HR head Dr. Garnell Bailey, Renata Hernandez deduces that Cox must have been among the four who knew and did nothing about it (see her post here).
As I mentioned previously, a candidate's husband remarked to me that 'there were mistakes made all around'. Mistakes can be forgiven. Mistakes can be learned from. Each voter will have to decide for themselves whether any of the incumbents deserve a second chance.
Come Wednesday, the voters will have chosen four Board of Ed members.

Besides the immediate issues of correcting personnel practices as demanded by the state's OFAC report, and considering Dr. Gallon's performance (and possibly his continued presence as Superintendent), the newly constituted nine-member Board will have the continued policy challenges of improving student performance and outcomes; dealing with reduced state funding and increasing the local tax levy; and -- to my mind at least -- being more open, less secretive and less defensive about public scrutiny of Board and District affairs.

To paraphrase Dottie Gutenkauf's remark to the Board at last Tuesday's meeting, we should not forget who works for who here.



BOARD OF EDUCATION ELECTION

Tuesday, April 20
2 - 9 PM
At your regular polling location


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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