The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Council's public 'retreat' today includes Tepper's basement tour



In 2001, Asm Jerry Green congratulated the City for getting the project under way.

Plainfield's City Council will conclude its 'retreat' sessions this afternoon in a meeting open to the public, as agreed between Council President Annie McWilliams and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson at Monday's meeting, from which the public was eventually excluded.

The basis for that exclusion, according to Williamson, was that the Council and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and members of the Administration were only going to discuss 'interpersonal relations' and not any city business. (It should be noted that no representative of the Clerk's office, which is the neutral guarantor that Council meetings toe the legal line, was in attendance.)

This afternoon's session is to include a tour of the city-owned basement of the former Tepper's building (now Horizons at Plainfield), which was fitted out in June 2007 as a federal grant for $460,000 was on the verge of expiration (see here and here). Neither the public nor the Council has had an opportunity to see the building since that work was done.

Since the space is City-owned property and discussion of its condition and/or future possible uses would constitute CITY BUSINESS, I am confident the Administration will be pleased for the public as well as City officials to tour the premises.

Tepper's, the once famous family-owned Plainfield department store had been vacant and boarded and off the tax rolls for nearly thirty years when it was renovated into Horizons at Plainfield, with funding, facilitated by Asm Jerry Green, from the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (more here) that carried a mandatory stipulation of the city's agreement to a PILOT or tax abatement for the project.





Councilor Adrian Mapp was instrumental in recruiting the developers.


The project was undertaken by developers Larry and Ken Regan of Westchester County, NY, who had a track record of similar conversions.



Assemblyman Green, Mayor McWilliams, the developer and state and local officials
toasted the inauguration of the project in November, 2001.


A kickoff event was held in November 2001 at which Assemblyman Jerry Green congratulated Mayor Al McWilliams and the Plainfield City Council for having gotten the project moving and thanked then-Commissioner of the DCA Jane Kenny for the division's support and assistance in securing funding for the project through the NJHMFA.

As part of the developer's agreement, the basement was deeded to the City of Plainfield in perpetuity for purposes to be determined.

Mayor Al McWilliams had hoped the Seniors would be interested in its possibilities for a new Senior Center, but the Seniors refused to even visit the building, deeming it unsuitable because it was not at ground level (see my March 2006 story here).

At the time, I observed --

...[i]n the midst of it all [the Park-Madison project --DD], a piece of genuine good luck came the city's way -- Sen. Frank Lautenberg had arranged for two sums of money to be set aside for Plainfield. One went to the Plainfield Public Library, and was earmarked for technology improvements. The other -- about $450,000 -- was earmarked specifically for improvements to the Tepper's building.

Why Tepper's?

Because part of the development agreement reached for the building was that the basement, on the order of 15,000+ square feet of raw space, was to be set aside for public use, rent-free, in perpetuity.

Now the City had no particular plan for that space at that moment, but the money, which would go a long way toward roughing out the space for some final use, certainly made the space attractive...
The space has been considered for various uses over the years: the late Council President Ray Blanco was interested in seeing offices for Council members put in place; and at various times it has been considered (and un-considered) as a location of the monitoring facility for the long-awaited Police Division downtown security streetcams.

What the Council and the Administration may think about the space and its possible uses we may learn this afternoon.






-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Council-PMUA discussion: Déjà vu all over again?




Was it, as Yogi would say, 'Déjà vu all over again?'

When
Plainfield's City Council and the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) commissioners, general counsel and executive staff sat down together Monday evening for what has become something of an annual rite of shadowboxing, one could have been excused for recalling the Yogiism.

After all, here we were a year later, and, under Councilor Burney's careful questioning using his summary of last year's agreement as a guide (see here), we  learned that in the last twelve months the PMUA had addressed some of the issues as follows --
TRAVEL
After the glare of publicity over last year's junket to the West Coast on the ratepayers' dime, and the rules put in place by newly elected Gov. Chris Christie earlier this year, travel costs have gone down dramatically -- but not gone away.

TRANSPARENCY
It was noted the PMUA website now sports agendas, but still not minutes or resolutions. Executive Director Watson replied the matter is being worked on and would hopefully be addressed by September.

CONSOLIDATION OF OPERATIONS
There was an extended -- if vague -- discussion of consolidating the PMUA's various operations and facilities, on which, again, Mr. Watson said work was ongoing. (To my mind, the real issue would be the ability to develop on Cottage Place as planned, which cannot be done without the Council's rescinding the redevelopment plan it adopted for the area that calls for mixed-use residential use.)

RESTRUCTURE SEWER RATES
When asked about progress on billing ratepayers at winter water usage rates for the summer months -- as broached a year ago -- PMUA general counsel Lesley London said that the independent rating consultant's report concluded the amount involved is minimal, the current metering arrangement is 'reasonable' and there was no reason to change. (Nevertheless, it is feasible, and it would please customers if given the option, so why not do it?)

SEWER BILLING THROUGH THE CITY
As for trying to get the sewer billing to be made through the city tax bills, to provide tax writeoffs to ratepayers, Mr. Watson (referring to the rate consultant's report) replied that these would be so small that they wouldn't be justified.
On balance, there seemed little real progress on these items from last year (except on travel, where the motivation came from an irresistible force outside of local control).

To Councilor Storch's query (via speakerphone) as to expanding PMUA services outside of Plainfield to help offset the Authority's overhead, both Watson and London reported that it was being worked on, though Watson said he was 'not at liberty' to discuss details.

PMUA counsel London also gave an update on the situation with the Connolly Properties, the bankruptcies and sale of properties involved, and the likelihood of some settlement coming to the PMUA -- no details available yet, and the bankruptcy judge would be the 'decider'.

As for the DumpPMUA lawsuit, she went over the counts dismissed by the judge and the 'shared services' count, on which the judge allowed both sides a great deal of time to argue, but on which she ultimately ruled in favor of the PMUA.

Where the discussion stopped sounding like a complete rehash of last years' with little or no progress was when Councilors McWilliams and Mapp got into discussing shared services fees, in particular why they were so high, and whether they are comparable to what other authorities charge. Mr. Watson replied with some passion that illegal dumping is a 'huge issue' and drives much of the cost (a valid story, but one not well -- or often-enough -- told, in my humble opinion).

When Councilor McWilliams asked about the $4 million expense and whether, since it was contractual, the city could not go out to bid for another vendor, you could practically see the heads spin.

It was quickly pointed out, both by the PMUA and by Corporation Counsel, that this was a matter of an Interlocal Services Agreement and would have to be negotiated by the parties.

Maybe the Council should investigate more deeply here, and not be afraid to be somewhat litigious in the face of PMUA resistance if changes could save the ratepayers money.

And, of course, that resistance would come from the PMUA Board of Commissioners, which Mr. Watson had written to Councilor McWilliams, is in desperate need of having appointments refreshed. Four of the seven members are on holdover status, not a good way to run an authority.

Which leads us to the role of Mayor Robinson-Briggs, who must nominate Commissioners.

Why no action in so long?


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Corporation Counsel argues Council retreat is 'non-public'




Plainfield's City Council had scheduled the first of is two 'retreat' sessions for 1:00 PM Monday. Retrieving a forgotten notebook made me about ten minutes late. As I entered the room Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson was reading an opinion to the assembled officials (and Alan Goldstein of the Citizens Budget Advisory Commission, the one other member of the public in attendance) arguing that the meeting could be CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC on the condition that the governing body and the mayor and members of the administration 'may not discuss any topic relating to public business', but that the discussion could include such items as 'interpersonal relations', as the Administration proposed to discuss.

Since it appeared we were going to be 86'ed, I decided to quickly note the scene.

Behind the table was a newsprint pad on an easel with a presumed agenda written out in large bold print --

  • Team building
  • Long-range goals
  • Acceptable/Unacceptable (behaviors? speech? other?)
  • Written pledge
Councilors present included President Annie McWilliams, Committee of the Whole Chair Adrian Mapp, and Rashid Burney and Linda Carter. (Councilor Reid, I had been told, was out of the state; Councilors Storch and Rivers were presumably at work.)

Also present were Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, City Administrator Bibi Taylor,
Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig, DPWUD Director David Brown, and IT manager Chris Payne.

Taken by surprise by the Corporation Counsel's opinion, a back-and-forth ensued between Council members and Mr. Williamson in an attempt to clarify what exactly could be discussed that would not be construed as 'public business', to which Mr. Williamson again referred to 'interpersonal relations' and '...issues of respect between the two factions ... if you will ... the Administration and the Council...'

Council President McWilliams referred to conversations she had had with Mayor Robinson-Briggs in planning the meeting in which the notion of excluding the public had not been broached.

With Mayor Robinson-Briggs and Corporation Counsel smilingly unbending,
Council President McWilliams acceded, on the condition that Wednesday's meeting be open to the public, to which Mr. Williamson replied, 'I think that's fair'.

Before we were escorted out, I asked Council President for clarification about whether the IT manager, Mr. Payne, was going to make a presentation (as I had inferred from her remarks at last Monday's Council meeting) during this meeting from which were being excluded.

Her response was that while the Council intended to discuss IT, he would be making a public presentation at another time.

(I am not entirely satisfied with this; discussing IT would be city business and therefore could not be conducted at the Monday meeting per the ground rules laid down by Corporation Counsel; also, if the Council wishes to discuss IT out of hearing of the public, it would have to be -- by my lights -- in EXECUTIVE SESSION, and the statutory exemptions prescribing the bases for those discussions not being public do not leave room for just having a private conversation.)

As Council President McWilliams escorted us out of the room, I asked if she would obtain a copy of Corporation Counsel's opinion, to which she said she would ask for it and probably post it on her blog.

(I am opining that since he read it aloud in its entirety in the presence of members of the public that it is a public document, and attorney-client privilege cannot be claimed.)

Mr. Goldstein and I left them to a lovely afternoon of team-building, but I couldn't help wondering what would be in a 'written pledge' between the two -- as Mr. Williamson styled them -- 'factions'.

Mark Spivey of the Courier arrived after we had been escorted out and was forbidden entry also, which he has written up in today's edition
(see here).

PS: Reprinted below is Mr.Goldstein's email to attendees expressing his point of view about the public's being excluded --

Dear Councilors McWilliams, Mapp, and Burney,
Notwithstanding Mr. Williamson’s opinion concerning the closing of today’s meeting to the public, if I had the time I would be back to lodge an official protest to be entered in the minutes.  (I presume that because the law requires minutes to be kept, there will in fact be minutes kept- NJSA 10:4-14).  Taking ‘action’ on public business is not a requirement.  But the topics were very much about public business (acceptable and non acceptable behavior, long-term goals, etc.).  Per 10:4-8, paragraph C-  "Public business" means and includes all matters which relate in any way, directly or indirectly, to the performance of the public body's functions or the conduct of its business.
When I returned home I looked up the Open Public Meetings Act (N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 to 10:4-21).  According to statute there are nine exceptions to the Open Meeting requirement.  I list them below because it seems that not one of them covers the topics planned for discussion today:
N.J.S.A.
10:4-12. Meetings open to public; exclusion of public; subject matter of discussion
a. Except as provided by subsection b. of this section all meetings of public bodies shall be open to the public at all times. Nothing in this act shall be construed to limit the discretion of a public body to permit, prohibit or regulate the active participation of the public at any meeting.
b. A public body may exclude the public only from that portion of a meeting at which the public body discusses:
(1) Any matter which, by express provision of Federal law or State statute or rule of court shall be rendered confidential or excluded from the provisions of subsection a. of this section.
(2) Any matter in which the release of information would impair a right to receive funds from the Government of the United States.
(3) Any material the disclosure of which constitutes an unwarranted invasion of individual privacy such as any records, data, reports, recommendations, or other personal material of any educational, training, social service, medical, health, custodial, child protection, rehabilitation, legal defense, welfare, housing, relocation, insurance and similar program or institution operated by a public body pertaining to any specific individual admitted to or served by such institution or program, including but not limited to information relative to the individual's personal and family circumstances, and any material pertaining to admission, discharge, treatment, progress or condition of any individual, unless the individual concerned (or, in the case of a minor or incompetent, his guardian) shall request in writing that the same be disclosed publicly.
(4) Any collective bargaining agreement, or the terms and conditions which are proposed for inclusion in any collective bargaining agreement, including the negotiation of the terms and conditions thereof with employees or representatives of employees of the public body.
(5) Any matter involving the purchase, lease or acquisition of real property with public funds, the setting of banking rates or investment of public funds, where it could adversely affect the public interest if discussion of such matters were disclosed.
(6) Any tactics and techniques utilized in protecting the safety and property of the public, provided that their disclosure could impair such protection. Any investigations of violations or possible violations of the law.
(7) Any pending or anticipated litigation or contract negotiation other than in subsection b. (4) herein in which the public body is, or may become a party.
Any matters falling within the attorney-client privilege, to the extent that confidentiality is required in order for the attorney to exercise his ethical duties as a lawyer.
(8) Any matter involving the employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of the performance of, promotion or disciplining of any specific prospective public officer or employee or current public officer or employee employed or appointed by the public body, unless all the individual employees or appointees whose rights could be adversely affected request in writing that such matter or matters be discussed at a public meeting.
(9) Any deliberations of a public body occurring after a public hearing that may result in the imposition of a specific civil penalty upon the responding party or the suspension or loss of a license or permit belonging to the responding party as a result of an act or omission for which the responding party bears responsibility.
Needless to say, I believe closing today’s meeting to the public was in violation of the Open Meeting Act.
Yours truly,
Alan Goldstein



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Police to accompany Fire Division on certain calls



Map indicates area where police are to accompany Fire Division on calls.


Evidently as part of the 'state of emergency' declared by Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, I have learned that police are now being required to accompany all responses by the Fire Division within an area bounded by Central Avenue on the east, Clinton Avenue on the west, and West 7th Street on the south to the boundary with North Plainfield.

There have been no reports of harassment of Fire Division crews, so the question arises as to how this will affect police effectiveness in other areas of the city.

Meanwhile, both Maria Pellum (see here) and the Courier (see here) have raised questions about the 'state of emergency'.

It seems only fair to expect to be told by Her Honor's administration just what the 'plan' is and how we will know when the 'state of emergency' is over.




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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City Council 'retreat' today; special meeting with PMUA tonight



Plainfield's City Council will meet in 'retreat' mode this afternoon at City Hall Library. While there is no agenda available, it should be interesting, if only because there seems to have been push-and-pull over both the meeting's location and agenda.


Attendees may learn more of what that was about -- or maybe not.

This evening's Special Meeting takes up liquor license renewals (the double stabbing reported in today's paper took place outside El Palacio, a relatively new bar on West Front Street -- see story here), a meeting with the PMUA commissioners and senior staff, and normally routine end-of-year budget matters that may strike sparks if Library funding becomes an issue.

A visit to the City Clerk's office on Friday found public notices as follows --

SPECIAL COUNCIL BUSINESS MEETING
Monday · June 28 · 7:00 PM

City Hall Library
Topics: Annual liquor license renewals; Joint meeting with PMUA Commissioners and staff.

COUNCIL RETREAT (PART 1)
Monday · June 28 · 1:00 - 5:00 PM

The City Council will meet in a retreat format, including discussions with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and members of the Administration. This is a public meeting of the full governing body.

At the Neighborhood Health Center, 1700 Myrtle Avenue.
UPDATE: Location changed to City Hall Library.


COUNCIL RETREAT (PART 2)
Wednesday · June 30 · 1:00 - 5:00 PM

The City Council will meet in a retreat format, including discussions with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and members of the Administration. This is a public meeting of the full governing body.

At the Neighborhood Health Center, 1700 Myrtle Avenue.
UPDATE: Location changed to City Hall Library.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

DumpPMUA to Council: Look at audits, unresolved issues




DumpPMUA's founder, Philip Charles, has sent an email to Plainfield City Council members in advance of Monday's meeting outlining some points he hopes the Council will take up with the PMUA's commissioners and senior staff.

I am reprinting the complete email below, but note that two important issues are audit recommendations (many of them repeats year after year) and the fact that the PMUA has still not implemented 'winter billing' for summer water usage -- which would remedy the problem of billing people for filling pools or running lawn sprinklers as though they were passing the water through the sanitary sewer system.

Here is the complete email, with a link to DumpPMUA's website, where you may find further documents and information --


Council,
I am requesting that you please make copies of the PMUA 2009 Audit available at this special meeting.  Year after year, some of the same corrective action items are stated.  No support documentation, inadequate / missing receipts, purchases in violation of LPCL, etc.  I encourage you to review the previous audits which are available on www.dumppmua.com.  As soon as the 2009 audit is made available to the public it will also be available on the website.

I encourage you to revisit the many questions you had with the PMUA a year ago:

  • Use winter months water use for yearly bills.
  • Survey all Union County towns for average sewer bills (Plainfielders pay nearly $600 per year; most others pay less than half that)
  • Put the "shared services" out to bid - It doesn't cost over $4 million to dispose of garbage at the parks and public buildings
  • Stop the business lunches, car allowances, limo service, floral arrangements, excessive cell phone bills, and trips unrelated to sewer or garbage.
  • Post bills listings, meeting agendas, and resolutions on website
  • Curb the consultants who bill $2-4k per day.
  • Reduce the excessive $200k per year lease of the Park Ave. building.
  • Appoint (no more than 5) commissioners who are willing to serve the public - not accept $14k in family medical benefits, $4.5k salary, and travel allowances.
As our elected officials, I encourage you to seek viable solutions to reduce the costs and pass the savings to the residents of Plainfield.  The PMUA's mission and creation ordinance stated, "The PMUA was created in 1995 to provide a stable and affordable solid waste operation and sanitary sewer service for the residents of Plainfield."  The rates charged are neither stable nor affordable.  They are significantly higher than surrounding Union County cities.  Since the PMUA essentially has a monopoly in Plainfield and pays 30% less to dispose of solid waste, their rates should be even more competitive.  Mismanagement, corruption, and greed have made an agency that was created with great intentions the thorn of Plainfield.  Property owners can no longer afford to live in Plainfield because they have a $1500 PMUA bill on top of their tax bill.
Thank you in advance for holding this meeting with the PMUA.

Philip





-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Double shooting early Sunday morning





Shootings have moved to Plainfield's east end, with a report of a double shooting at 12:30 AM today.

Two males, known to police as gang members, were shot near East 2nd Street and Johnston Avenue; the wounds are said to be non-life-threatening.

Further, I am told the county's
street crimes unit, which spent a few days here several weeks ago, has been disbanded.

Police are feeling understaffed (with firings, suspensions, injuries, retirements and vacations, one estimate is the force is 30 officers below strength -- which would put it around 120 effective officers) and morale is suffering with all the turmoil in the division.

Additionally, cops point out to me that although the Housing Authority has been hiring off-duty cops for patrol and security for several years, it is not every night, and the job often has gone uncovered for lack of interest. The camera system already in place is viewed as OK by officers, but is used only to try and identify persons of interest AFTER AN INCIDENT as there is no funding to have people sit and watch the monitors.

The City's talk about cameras has been on-again, off-again for years. Originally investigated at the insistence of the downtown merchants and the late Charles Billups of the East 6th Street Block Association, the Council has yet to be presented with an actual feasibility study with cost estimates.

After Mayor Robinson-Briggs spent $460,000 on outfitting the basement of Tepper's (in June 2007, with a federal grant that was about to expire), there was talk of using the space for the closed-circuit camera system, but no action ever ensued.

Meanwhile, the mayor is calling for 100 male volunteers to meet at City Hall Monday at 6:30 PM to plan a march through the city's violence-prone areas.

Women need not come out?




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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UPDATE: Council Retreat location changed



NOTE: THE LOCATION OF THE COUNCIL RETREAT HAS BEEN CHANGED TO CITY HALL LIBRARY.


Plainfield's City Council will have three special meetings this week. A visit to the City Clerk's office found public notices as follows --

SPECIAL COUNCIL BUSINESS MEETING
Monday · June 28 · 7:00 PM

City Hall Library
Topics: Annual liquor license renewals; Joint meeting with PMUA Commissioners and staff.

COUNCIL RETREAT (PART 1)
Monday · June 28 · 1:00 - 5:00 PM

The City Council will meet in a retreat format, including discussions with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and members of the Administration. This is a public meeting of the full governing body.

At the Neighborhood Health Center, 1700 Myrtle Avenue.
UPDATE: Location changed to City Hall Library.


COUNCIL RETREAT (PART 2)
Wednesday · June 30 · 1:00 - 5:00 PM

The City Council will meet in a retreat format, including discussions with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and members of the Administration. This is a public meeting of the full governing body.

At the Neighborhood Health Center, 1700 Myrtle Avenue.
UPDATE: Location changed to City Hall Library.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Council: Retreat a public meeting; PMUA, liquor licenses up Monday



Plainfield's City Council will have three special meetings this week. A visit to the City Clerk's office found public notices as follows --

SPECIAL COUNCIL BUSINESS MEETING
Monday · June 28 · 7:00 PM

City Hall Library
Topics: Annual liquor license renewals; Joint meeting with PMUA Commissioners and staff.

COUNCIL RETREAT (PART 1)
Monday · June 28 · 1:00 - 5:00 PM

The City Council will meet in a retreat format, including discussions with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and members of the Administration. This is a public meeting of the full governing body.

At the Neighborhood Health Center, 1700 Myrtle Avenue.

COUNCIL RETREAT (PART 2)
Wednesday · June 30 · 1:00 - 5:00 PM

The City Council will meet in a retreat format, including discussions with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and members of the Administration. This is a public meeting of the full governing body.

At the Neighborhood Health Center, 1700 Myrtle Avenue.




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Christie restores some state library funding, affecting Plainfield



Plainfield's library is a cultural and architectural gem.


Despite facing continuing financial pressures locally from an apparently hostile mayor, the Plainfield Public Library (along with 303 others across the state) received some good news from this week's budget compromises in Trenton.

The proposed budget would restore sufficient funding to the State Library for it to continue to subsidize services that local libraries have come to depend on, including Internet access for patrons; access to online magazine, newspaper and scholarly journal databases; and the continuation of interlibrary loan services, through which borrowers are supplied copies of books not found in their local library (see story here).

The restored funding will also guarantee that the State Library will meet its match amount for continued federal funding of some programs.

Both legislators and NJ Library Association executive director Pat Tumulty credit intense library advocacy with the restoration of funding.

While the Plainfield Public Library will benefit from the continued offering through the State Library of Internet and database access as well as interlibrary loans, we are still in the opening phases of discussions about the city's FY2011 budget and the library's funding in it.

Library Director Joe Da Rold and a host of those who would be impacted by cuts in library funding made the case for restoration of funding cuts made in the past year at last week's City Council meeting (see story here).

With the library forced to cut back evening hours, the Robinson-Briggs administration's cuts have left some sixty community organizations that depended on the library for meeting space scrambling to find alternatives.

The cuts have also affected the library's award-winning literacy program as well as its computer classes and job-search assistance programs.

The City Council indicated it would be looking more closely at how to ensure the library receives adequate funding in next year's budget and what its alternatives are if the Robinson-Briggs administration pursues further cuts.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Drake House grazed by falling tree



Split oak grazed Drake House.


The Nathaniel Drake House, Plainfield's museum that is operated by the Historical Society of Plainfield, was grazed by limbs from a huge oak that split and fell in its front yard Wednesday afternoon.

Alerted by Historical Society board member Liz D'Aversa, I was able to snap some pictures at the site around 3:30 PM.

A large old oak tree along the street edge of the property split nearly in half on the crotch between its major limbs, with the huge limb that fell swiping the front of the building ever so slightly.



The large old oak split nearly in half.



A view of the split from the parking lot.

The only apparent damage was a slate and board that appear to have been knocked from one of the dormer windows, and a bent gutter that had been struck.

Miraculously, the newly rebuilt porch and ramp, including its new railing, appeared unscathed.



The huge branch just missed the rebuilt porch and its ramp.


On the bright side, if the tree has to be completely removed, it will greatly enhance the visibility of the Drake House from the street.

That would be a good thing for one of Plainfield's cultural gems.

Now if they could just get that $55,000 in grant-matching funds from the Robinson-Briggs administration.





-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Have a PNC safe-deposit box? Maybe you should check it

.



Safe-deposit boxes are supposed to offer secure storage for valuables.

Plainfield's United National Bank was the bank of choice for most who banked in Plainfield when I first moved here in 1983. And the stairs down to the vault where the
safe-deposit boxes were located were both inviting and a little intimidating.

But one thing was for sure, you felt your precious items -- whether documents, jewelry or other valuables were above all SAFE. Safe from fire, flood, loss or theft.
SAFE.

Well, if you have a safe-deposit box at PNC, the large regional bank which bought out the locally-owned United National Bank a number of years ago, perhaps you had better rush over and check on it.

A faithful reader sent the following disturbing email Tuesday --

Hi Plainfield neighbors.  Many of you have been in this town forever and may have a safety deposit box at PNC downtown.
 
I'm writing to tell you that if you or anyone you knows has a safety deposit box at the PNC bank on Park Avenue & 2nd Street, you need to go inventory and check your contents, especially if you have not visited the box in a long time.
 
I have had my safety deposit box since 1988, when it was still United National Bank.  I rarely go there & most times when I do, it's at holiday time to get jewelry to wear at special events.   I just found out Friday that my jewelry was STOLEN from my box between the August/September timeframe (my last visit).  I don't visit the box often, and they have been clearing out the boxes and phasing them out.  That should have been a sign for me to find a new bank & transfer my articles. 
 
I would never have imagined that this could happen.  They stole the jewelry my mother, who died 26 years ago, left to me.  Most importantly was a diamond ring she had designed & made circa 1960 and contained one of my great grandmother's stones.  I am distraught and heart broken.  They even took the appraisal certificate.  I cannot replace this ever.  No amount of money could compensate me for this heirloom.
 
Still, noone should be able to get into the box as you need BOTH special keys.  However, you should see the state of affairs down there.  No formal notice has gone out to people.  The bank didn't even have the card that I sign each time I visit, so there was no history of my last or prior visits.  Why is that?  Where is it?  They couldn't even produce that sign-in card.  Bottom line, I have filed a police report and am taking other next steps.  Really - I just want that ring back.  They can keep the pearls & other items as I can replace those, but not this ring.  It's a one of a kind & it's sentimental.
 
Again, if you know of anyone with a safety deposit box, have them go there immediately and inventory their contents!  I guarantee you there will be others.
My mother would be in absolute shock.

She had had a safe-deposit box ever since I could remember, and firmly believed it was the best place -- bar none -- to keep her will, insurance policies, divorce decree, and heirloom jewelry.

When she knew she was dying of cancer, she arranged for me to be a co-owner of the box, which entailed filing a signature card and getting a copy of the key (which, with the bank's key, made the box seem even more secure) to keep.

She would not be able to grasp the thought that somehow someone was able to STEAL FROM A SAFE DEPOSIT BOX, given all the security measures.

But I guess it is a different world.

The reader's report on PNC's care -- or lack of it -- is distressing.

If you have a safe deposit box there, I suggest you heed the reader's advice and inventory its contents immediately.






-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Primary 2010: Time to move on


Signs of 2010's contested Democratic primary.

Despite the fact that today marks two weeks since Plainfield's contested Democratic primary was resolved by Democratic voters in favor of Rebecca Williams, I continue to get comments on blog posts from those who are disappointed at the outcome.

It seems that comments on Plainfield Today during the campaign were considered as an important way to get the candidates' points of view across, especially given the different approaches of the candidates to feedback (Burney -- see here -- did NOT take comments; Davis -- see here --
DID; as DID Williams -- see here).

Whether or not anyone was swayed by comment-lobbing on Plainfield Today is impossible to tell.

At any rate, Williams clearly carried the day, as can be seen by reviewing the district-by-district results (along with maps) which I posted online (see here). With 21% of registered Dems in the two wards voting, there is simply no disputing that the voters have spoken, clearly and forcefully.

Now is the time for those who are true Democrats to do as Rashid has done --

...[I] congratulated [Rebecca] on her win for the Plainfield City Council seat for the 2nd and 3rd wards.  I pledged to her my support in her fall campaign...
-- and pledge their support in the fall campaign (see his full post here).

I hope that those who are disappointed will grow to appreciate the strengths Rebecca Williams will bring to the table if she is elected, and that they will not hesitate to challenge her to represent them as well as Rashid has. Fair-minded people may even be surprised to find that she is likable, capable and reliable, qualities that might have a familiar ring.

Whether or not they support Rebecca, there is ANOTHER ALTERNATIVE open to them: Blogging.

Plainfield is distinguished by its rich blogging milieu (find me another community of any size in New Jersey that has TWENTY-ONE folks blogging on a more-or-less regular basis!). There is certainly room for more bloggers at the table -- whether or not they are Rebecca supporters.

So, if anyone feels impelled to blog, they are welcome and I will treat them on CLIPS just as I do all the other bloggers commenting on the life and times of Plainfield, NJ -- providing only that they post on at least a quasi-frequent basis (I am the decider, as GWB said).

But there is one alternative that is now officially closed off.

I will not be posting any more comments regarding the 2010 Dem Primary.

Trust me.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Council features Library, CFO discussions



A common thread tied together the main discussions at Monday's Plainfield City Council meeting: Finances.

Responding to a request from Plainfield Public Library Director Joe Da Rold, Council president Annie McWilliams set aside time at the meeting's beginning for a presentation by Da Rold on the library's financial needs as the Council looks down the road to the FY2011 budget.

He was followed by ten speakers representing community-wide support for the Library (including some who were moved to speak by those whose testimony they heard last evening), and the dramatic impact that budget cuts have had on programming, staffing and availability of the building as the community's premier meeting space.

From appearances, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is preparing to mount an all-out assault on library funding as she prepares for the next budget, though no one can quite figure out her antipathy to the 118-year-old institution acknowledged as THE hub of the community and one of the Queen City's gems.

The Council seemed attentive in a positive way -- with an occasional light touch (sounding a little chagrined, McWilliams said she would be returning some overdue books today).

Councilor Mapp led off a discussion of options the Council has to parry any cuts contemplated by the Robinson-Briggs administration. As it started to get somewhat involved, Council President McWilliams suggested that the discussion should be reserved for another time.

Whatever, it was perfectly clear that the Administration will get pushback if it decides to press its attack on library funding.

The much-anticipated Council discussion of its resolution requesting the state appoint a certified financial officer was the other high point of the evening.

Council President's statement that she had heard nothing from the Robinson-Briggs administration by Monday afternoon concerning suggested changes to the resolution elicited a statement by City Administrator Bibi Taylor that 'the Administration proposes no changes as it opposes the resolution in its entirety'.

The room fairly crackled with tension between the Council bench and the Administration's table, with Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson having to admit that the mayor is still no closer to having a viable candidate.

(As an aside, there was a discussion of a memo from Williamson to the council in which it was averred that Mayor Robinson-Briggs had made an offer of the position to Councilor Adrian Mapp, who holds the required municipal financial officer certification. Mapp firmly stated -- TWICE -- that he wanted the record to reflect that no such offer had been made to him, though there had been preliminary discussions.)

Though Robinson-Briggs is on her THIRD THREE-MONTH EXTENSION OF THE DEADLINE (set to expire on July 19), a matter which has been commented on repeatedly in the media and the blogs, Councilor Burney stated that he would prefer a 'conference call with the state' rather than an action by the Council in advance of the expiry of this third deadline. Councilor Storch allowed as how Burney's reservation had merit.

On the eventual vote, the measure failed. Absent Councilors Carter and Rivers, four of the five members present would have to support the measure, and it was clear that without Burney's support or that of Councilor Bill Reid (who no one expected to cross Robinson-Briggs on the matter), the measure would fail. The final vote was 3-2, with only McWilliams, Mapp and Storch in favor.

Regardless of the failure of the measure or the fact that the Council's next business meeting will not be until AFTER the mayor's deadline, the Council has applied a great deal of heat to the feet of the Robinson-Briggs administration.

Surely, not even Councilor Burney can suggest after July 19 that the Council is being hasty.

One thing at least would be certain were the state to send in its own CFO, the sloppiness with which the city's financial affairs have been managed (alluded to by Council President McWiliams) would come under sharp scrutiny, and we might expect more 'i's' to be dotted and more 't's' to be crossed.

That in itself would be progress.




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Father's Day weekend crime update


Father's Day weekend in Plainfield was hardly peaceful as Saturday night rolled into Sunday.

Events surround the shooting on West 6th Street, in which the victim was medevaced to RWJ, are beginning to be clarified (see the Courier story here, and the Ledger here). Word is that the victim, apparently intoxicated, solicited an African American female, whose boyfriend defended her honor with his handgun.

Earlier that night, in a possibly gang-related drive-by incident, a male walking in the area of South Second Street and Prescott Place was shot at several times from a vehicle, though not hit.

Around 2:00 AM, a house at 823 West 3rd Street was shot up, possible gang-related. No one was hit though the house had several people in it at the time. Shell casings were found at the scene.

Near 3:00 AM, an Hispanic male was found at the intersection of Plainfield Avenue and West Front Street with several stab wounds.

Madison Avenue residents reported hearing loud popping noises at 2:35 AM and 3:20 AM, though they appear to have been firecrackers. However, police did find a car window smashed in at West 9th Street and Madison Avenue.

To this, I am told, can be added DWI car accidents, domestic violence disputes, noise complaints, fights and disorderly persons incidents.

Police are complaining they are understaffed on the overnights to handle the load of incidents that look to be the norm for what may shape up as a long, hot summer.


  • Shooting: "Police make arrest in early Sunday shooting" -- Courier | Ledger |
-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Hellwig-related police purge continues



Word comes that the Hellwig-related purge in Plainfield's Police Division continues.

Former Captain (now Lieutenant) Mike Gilliam faced a departmental hearing last Monday I am told, which resulted in discipline that includes demotion from lieutenant to sergeant and a penalty of 180 days suspension, scheduled to begin in August.

As I reported on June 14, Sgt. Frederick Walz, who filed the initial report on
Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig's alleged escapade 'hooking up' with a male prostitute has been demoted and suspended (see media coverage of the Hellwig incident here, copy of report here [PDF], a note that News12 picked up the story here, with video of News12 coverage here).

Gilliam, once a favorite of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, seems to have come under fire for the report's having come to the attention of the media.

Gilliam's previous demotion, from captain to lieutenant, supposedly as part of a cost-reduction plan for resolving the FY2010 budget, left many scratching their heads as to how the demotees had been selected. (They included long-time captains Tony Celentano and Siddeeq El-Amin as well as Gilliam, who has only been a captain since December, 2007.)

What puzzles me is the silence of the unions, normally quick to come to the defense of their members.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Will these kill Robinson-Briggs' plan to buy YWCA?


Senator Lautenberg secured $460,000 for use at Tepper's site.

Will Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs continue with her plan to have the city float $5.5 million in bonds to buy the YWCA (see my previous posts here and here)?

Besides the issues already raised, there seem to be two more that are true 'deal-killers'.

TEPPERS

In his FIRST Senate career, Sen. Frank Lautenberg secured two grants for Plainfield -- one for the Plainfield Public Library and one for the city's Tepper's redevelopment project. The Library used its grant expeditiously.

The city's $460,000 grant fell in the gap between the McWilliams and Robinson-Briggs administrations. As the deadline for using or returning the grant approached in 2007, I blogged about it (see here and here).

While there was talk by the new administration of using it elsewhere, when push came to shove and the deadline was literally upon them, the Robinson-Briggs administration awarded a no-bid contract for sheetrocking the 15,000+ square foot space.

Though there was talk of using the space for the proposed business district streetcam project, that has not come to fruition and here we sit, three years later, with nothing done to put the space to good use.

Why not the Tepper's basement, which we already own, and which has been 'improved' with nearly a half million taxpayer dollars already?

Maybe the Council should take a look into this before further consideration of the Robinson-Briggs proposal to buy the YWCA.
WHO SAYS $5.5 MILLION IS A FAIR PRICE?

Cranford is buying school and property for $1.9M. 

While Mayor Robinson-Briggs somehow came up with a dollar amount of $5.5 million, no one seems to know where it came from.

Real estate professionals are asking why the typical average-of-three professional appraisals method wasn't followed, especially considering the city's fragile financial position, and the YWCA's admitted drawbacks -- of which parking availability is a critical shortcoming.

Meanwhile, we learn that over in Cranford -- where properties fetch better prices than in Plainfield -- the Township Committee is about to bond for the purchase of the former Solomon Schechter Day School building and its 3.7 acre campus on Orange Avenue, for the princely sum of $1.9 million (see story here).

So, how do we know the YWCA price is a good one?

And why bond to buy when you already own?




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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