The needler in the haystack.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Consider yourself put on notice


Plainfield's 2010 National Night Out is duly noticed, I guess.

Spotted at City Hall on Wednesday.






-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Did Robinson-Briggs administration break rules paying for July 4?



Plainfield's City Council has evidently been kept in the dark by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs about lavish over-budget overspending on this year's July 4 activities which she has secretly paid for out of other accounts.

At least that is what I was told in the City Hall parking lot after Wednesday's special Council meeting by a resident who says an OPRA check of paid bills for July 4 expenses showed that the Robinson-Briggs administration overspent its budget by approximately one third.

The Council had budgeted $55,000 in the emergency appropriations adopted for the beginning of the new fiscal year in July.

The trick is to shift the item to another division or department's accounts and pay the invoice.

Two sets of questions arise: Why did the Recreation Division go over budget?, and What happens to other division's budgets if they are 'raided' in this way -- does it mean they had 'slush' in them, or will their budget priorities suffer from having funds snatched away in such a manner?

It's a helluva a way to run a city when the mayor can lay off a part-time employee who brings in grants that basically cover most of their expenses and instead blow a wad of $15,000 - $20,000 and have nothing to show for it.

Having a CFO on hand would make such hanky-panky harder to pull off -- if not impossible. That is one of the reasons having the state appoint someone may be of benefit to the taxpayers.

In the meantime, maybe the Council needs to ask the Robinson-Briggs administration to give an accounting.




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mayor MIA as finance appointments fizzle


Disney's 'Finding Nemo' competed with last night's Council meeting.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was missing in action last night as City Council met to consider two resolutions giving advice and consent to the appointments of a chief financial officer and a Director of Administration & Finance.

After the public waited until nearly 10:00 PM, Council President McWilliams came out to the rotunda to apologize to those remaining and invite them into the (much cooler) meeting room.

Upon McWilliams' opening the meeting, City Administrator Bibi Taylor advised the administration wished to withdraw the resolution concerning the Director's appointment, saying the alleged candidate was 'still deliberating an offer'. (I had posted pre-meeting on the likelihood of this scenario based on gossip circulating at City Hall during the day, see here.)

McWilliams took pains to note that the Council was very concerned that the person to fill the CMFO slot be experienced (hinting at what was to come).

Those of us waiting in the rotunda had gotten the impression that the candidate, Willliam Scherer, of Manalapan, had stood up his appointed interview time and only showed up at 7:45 PM to meet with the Council. Councilor Reid clarified that for me after the meeting, saying that Schere had indeed been on time for his 6:00 PM interview, but had been excused and then let back in at 7:45 PM.

The bulk of the time the Council spent in camera seems to have been devoted to wrangling over what to do regarding the CMFO slot, not wanting to seem to be obstructing resolving the longstanding lack of an appointee, yet reluctant to take on an unexperienced (even if licensed) hand.

In the event, caution won out.

When the resolution came up, after brief discussion Councilor Storch moved to table it. The voice vote was 5-1, with Councilor Reid opposing the motion (Councilor Carter was absent).

With no appointment being made, Council President McWilliams, in answer to a question by Dr. Harold Yood, said that the language of last week's resolution asking for state intervention meant that the Council would be forwarding that resolution to the Department of Community Affairs,  no appointment having been made by the date set.

Where was Mayor Robinson-Briggs at this crucial juncture?

No one knows, but there was a family movie night scheduled, showing Finding Nemo.

Perhaps the Mayor had joined the hunt for Disney's elusive clownfish?


'Finding Nemo' concerns the hunt for an elusive young clownfish.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Robinson-Briggs finds one hat has no rabbit in it?


Can we just have a little 'just and capable government', please?

Tonight's City Council meeting will no doubt be interesting, but not for the reasons originally thought.

Plainfielders at last week's City Council meeting may well have wondered what kind of a rabbit-out-of-the-hat act Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was pulling with the surprise announcements at two points in the course of the meeting that she had made offers to two individuals for the open finance positions.

The Council reacted with scepticism and wanted to see the resumés and offer letters for the two positions. The Administration was unwilling to produce same and, when the meeting was recessed for someone to retrieve the documents in question from city hall, never even left the room to get them.

In the ensuing conversation it came out that there was no offer letter for the Finance & Administration slot.

Tonight the Council will take up consideration of giving advice and consent to one of the positions -- the certified municipal finance officer (CMFO).

Word in the street today is that the candidate for the Director of Finance & Administration has withdrawn from consideration.

If there ever was a real candidate, since the Mayor played the 'trust me' game.

By this time we should have learned what that means.



Special Meeting
Plainfield City Council

Tonight | 8:00 PM
City Hall Library


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Why no 'rubber room' for Gallon?


With a 'rubber room', we would know where Gallon was.
Plainfield's disappeared Superintendent of Schools Steve Gallon III is on my mind today, especially since he is also in the news (see the Courier here, and Maria's blog here).

The Courier's Mark Spivey updates us on the Gallon/Kemp court case, and Maria digs up an email exchange confirming Gallon's suspension (though it goes unacknowledged publicly by the Board of Ed).

What gridges me is that no one knows where the man is.

New York City schools have what are called 'rubber rooms' for teachers and administrators who are suspended pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings.

Whatever else may be said about them, one good point is that as long as the employee is on paid suspension you know where they are every work day.

Since we are paying Dr. Gallon approximately just a hair under $900 PER DAY in salary (not counting benefits), it gridges me that the way the Board and its attorneys have structured things, it appears more like a PERMANENT VACATION than a suspension.

Just where is he every day on our dime?

Lounging in his South Plainfield apartment? Laying on a Miami beach? Working another gig? Who knows?

At least if he were in a 'rubber room', we would know where he was while on our dime. Whether he was playing solitaire, watching the soaps, or working word puzzles.

Call me old-fashioned, but that would give me a little satisfaction in this unsatisfying mess.

NOTE: Those following the proceedings may want to check out the statutes referenced in the email exchange Maria has OPRAed. Title 18A in the NJ Statutes Annotated covers Education (see complete statute, by section, here).

The two specific statutes cited in the emails are --
  • 18A:6-11. Written charges; written statement of evidence; etc., and

  • 18A:17-20.2a. Required actions relative to early termination of superintendent's employment contract.
What puzzles me is the continued secrecy about Gallon despite the fact that so much is discoverable, as Maria shows. Is it the quality of the legal advice the Board is getting? Or is it just quirkiness on the part of Board members?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Board of Ed: Obama Academy disarray; Bailey redux?; Renata a stomper?




Some of the Grand SLAM team's campaign promises.

So, in a little more than ninety days, Plainfield's Board of Ed seems to have gone from a hopeful post-Gallon future to disarray on several fronts.

THE OBAMA ACADEMY FIASCO

More than a month after the end of the school year -- when Barack Obama Academy students knew only that they would not be returning to their building in September -- the Board of Ed and the CSA have yet to clarify the situation for the public.

Rumors abound. What can you expect? (Though Maria Pellum pointed out on her blog, see here, that since confirmation came from the ex-principal's own mouth, it was hardly rumor.)

It is understandable that budgetary constraints may cause changes. But there is no excuse for PLODDING.

Is the Academy being abolished outright? Relocated yet again? (Thrown out of nice digs on West Front Street to be put back in the old Lincoln School this past year, wherever would they get the idea they are second-class students within the District?) Why hadn't there been a plan in place by the end of the school year? Why hadn't staff been informed instead of being moved around like checkers on a board? Why have students, parents and community had to wait until the Courier does a story (see here) to find out that an 'informational meeting' is -- now that there's been a public fuss? -- planned for August 4?

What can be more important than the kids, INCLUDING THESE STUDENTS who cannot thrive in the conventional classroom setting yet which the District has an obligation to give an equal education?

This apparent lack of planning and professionalism does not inspire the confidence of the PRINCIPAL STAKEHOLDERS -- the taxpayers -- who must foot the bill for all the dithering.

BAILEY AGAIN?

The Board of Ed has scheduled THREE special meetings for this week -- tonight, Wednesday, AND Thursday -- for personnel and legal matters, per notices on the District website (here, here, and here, all PDFs).

Rumor has it (what else is there?) that at least some of the time in these three special meetings will be devoted to filling two posts: Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services (see job listing as posted online by Maria here) and a personnel director.

Rumor, again, has it that Dr. Garnell Bailey is being considered -- yet again -- for one of the positions. Bailey resigned her Plainfield job to go to Pleasantville; after less than six months she is back in the job market. Why?

As I wrote on this subject last month (see here) --

...[a] move to reinstall Dr. Bailey would indicate the abandonment of the SLAM team's campaign language of cleaning up the situation with the schools....
Dr. Bailey is identified too much with the mess under Dr. Gallon, as well as (based on a close reading of the OFAC report -- see here, PDF) questionable performance as HR director.

The Board of Ed needs to affirm a commitment to capable administration, free of the taint of the Gallon era, and stop being the employer-of-last-resort for old hometown chums.

To be clear, the (re)hiring of Dr. Bailey would be a signal that the SLAM team's great campaign talk of getting to a post-Gallon, progressive place for the Board of Ed was just that -- campaign talk.

RENATA: UNSCRIPTURAL STOMPER?


As a blogger, I would like to think there were many who voted for the SLAM team as a result of following Renata Hernandez' posts on her blog in the run-up to the April school board elections (see archives here for February, March and April).

After taking a break, she came back with a new blog, Standing in the Gap (see here), with the following mission statement --

...SERVICE is an honorable charge in a sometimes dishonorable and uncivilized atmosphere. It's thankless, and tiresome! BUT for the sake of this city's children and their FUTURE -- I shall serve and serve with my whole heart. I shall "Stand in the Gap" until the educational system in this fair city provides for the edification, preparation and self-actualization of each and every student in Plainfield Public Schools...
One has to ask an obvious question: How does the 'dishonorable and uncivilized atmosphere' of the current public comment (including the blogs) about the Board of Ed against which Renata has railed recently in her blog posts differ from the kinds of posts she herself put up for all the world to see when she was a candidate for the very same board?

In particular, what about the two blog posts of last Friday (7/23) which Renata took down within hours of having put them up.

One concerned Olddoc (see a Google cached copy here), in which Renata refers to the venerable Dr. Yood as --

  • a 'blood sucking perp'

  • whose 'constant berating is uncivilized not to mention severely uninformed',

  • tells him 'it is not enough to provide amateur commentary without being responsible for [his] words', and says she

  • 'will no longer excuse [his] rudeness'..
As for the second post, it was on the same day (see here) and was about Laura Shoemaker, a concerned resident and former District employee (CORRECTION: Laura advises she was never an employee) who was one of the first to expose the Gallon mess.

Renata evidently takes something written by Shoemaker elsewhere (to the NJ forums?), cut-and-pasted into the Standing in the Gap blog, with Renata's comments interspersed in yellow highlighter.

Among other things, Shoemaker offered this opinion --

...To Renata: What is so disturbing to me is that you advocated for transparency all during your campaign. Who is the one who isn't transparent now? You preach that YOU are doing this, and YOU are doing that. Sorry, but I think the "power trip" has gotten to your head. As a board member, you are supposed to listen to the communities concerns, not berate them...
After calling Shoemaker ASININE (or is that ASSININE, which Renata also uses?), and asking whether Shoemaker 'will sell her home and donate [the] funds' to get the Barack Obama gym fixed, Renata opines that 'one afternoon eating grapes and cheese' or 'going out for burgers does not a FRIEND make'...

While this may be true, great friendships have gotten started with less.

So, Renata gave Olddoc and Laura the back of her hand. Take that, and that!

Oops! Did anybody see that? Can I take it back?

If I take the posts down will nobody know?

The sad part is how unscriptural Renata's process is (Renata will be the first to tell you she is a Christian).

Here are some suggestions from Scripture about how believers should handle themselves --

  • Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. (Hebrews 12:14; James 1:19)

  • If your brother or sister offends you, go to them in private and try gently to resolve the matter. (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1)

  • Don't repay evil for evil or insult with insult. Instead, respond with a blessing. (Matthew 5: 39-40; 1 Peter 3:9; Romans 12:17, 21)

  • You will be judged in the same way you judge others. (Matthew 7:1-2)
Will Renata learn to accept that the public -- all of them -- have A RIGHT to kibitz, kvetch or comment, even if they don't participate to the level she expects?

The taxpayers, of whom Dr. Yood and Ms. Shoemaker are representatives, are the PRIMARY STAKEHOLDERS in the public education system as they foot the bills, and they elect the Board.

When do they get their respect?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, July 26, 2010

C-Town supermarket touches a nerve


Nothing in
Plainfield is ever as simple as it seems.

Sunday's BUSINESS STORY about the new C-Town supermarket (story and comments here) and how it would stack up against it's nearest competitor,the Fanwood A&P, snagged 15 comments so far, quite a record for a hot summer weekend when folks could have been 'down the Shore' or enjoying some other form of clean, wholesome fun other than commenting on blog posts.

While I was thinking about the gamble ($1 million? more?) the owners took on opening a supermarket in Plainfield, a mile from another, longtime regional player (A&P), readers had other things on their mind.

Like the hours (it's only open 'til 8:00 PM), that it can't offer beer (which the A&P can, thanks to a grandfathered license -- which the Plainfield A&P also had, but sold to the South Avenue liquor store by PNC), and perceptions that prices are high and it won't be kept clean for long. (I'll be doing a price comparison later.)

But the most heat was generated around an anonymous comment that 'none of the employees "look" like the community being served'.

I have to admit I don't know what exactly the person meant, but it didn't seem good on the face of it -- which is how other commenters also saw it.

What kind of employees were they expecting?

Evidently there is at least ONE Plainfield Today reader who is very uncomfortable with anyone not just exactly like them. That's their right, I guess, but do they have to whine all the time about it? Other readers don't think so, evidently.

Which brings us to the matter of 'diversity' and Plainfield's 'changing demographics'.

Plainfield, as many other New Jersey (and East Coast) communities is experiencing a growing Latino population. It has been obvious to careful observers for years. The schools are the clearest barometer, and in a few short years the high school will reflect it with a 50% or more Latino enrollment.

Those who pine for folks 'just like themselves' would do well to ponder the Latino products in the cooler cases at the rear of the Times Market. Store owners don't stock products that don't sell.

Concerning butcher counters. They are an added overhead, as opposed to just putting out shrink-wrapped meats. My point is that butcher counters disappeared from supermarkets (except for high end stores) because they could foist shrink-wrapped meat on suburban customers. The Latino market is far more interested in this kind of service, and smart marketers offer it.

As for the idea that the Council somehow was involved in 'considering' the franchisee for the site, I am puzzled. It's a private business, in a privately-owned building -- which by the way was vacant for quite a while -- and a use that previously existed there (it was once a Foodtown before Royal Dutch Ahold bought that chain and merged its stores into the Stop & Shops). Why would it have been anything more than a routine landlord-tenant deal, with the exception of construction officials having to certify any work performed?

Is a thriving South Avenue shopping scene good for Plainfield? If not, you need to explain to me why.

Are Latinos and other newcomers (including the increasing numbers of Muslims and others I see) going to be important in the Queen City's remaking of itself?
If not, you need to explain to me why.

Like everything else in life, Plainfield is constantly changing.

What is, is.

Or, as that girl-next-door-who-looks-like-me once sang, 'Qué será, será'.




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Will C-Town give Fanwood A&P a run for its money?


Will Plainfield's new C-Town supermarket on South Avenue give the Fanwood A&P a run for its money?

If the answer is based on store layout and merchandising attractiveness, the answer has to be yes.

Like many others, I have been curiously waiting the opening of Plainfield's newest supermarket (for those who may not know it, we already have TWO others -- Supremo and Twin City -- both of which I regularly patronize).

The new store's interior is brightly lit, well thought out, and well-stocked. With aisles wider than the claustrophobic A&P's, shopper are first of all sure to feel uncramped.

First up when you enter are the Deli shop and Produce, with its beautifully displayed fruits and veggies. Across the back of the store are its packaged meat section, a full-service butcher shop and a seafood department.

Butcher counters, which remind me of the supermarkets of my childhood, had practically disappeared from the suburban megastores, but the influx of Latino customers -- who expect fresh meats cut to their specifications -- have been a boon for us all (well, us all meat-eaters; apologies to my vegan friends -- you know who you are).

The balance of the store reflects standard suburban fare, with the addition of a healthy dollop of Latin American specialties, reflecting the shift in Central Jersey demographics.

The C-Town looks like it's going be a good addition to the South Avenue shopping mix. It's going to be interesting to watch how the new store fares.

And the A&P's reaction to it -- far as I can see, the only advantage the A&P has at the moment is a fancier cheese and crackers selection, but is that enough to win the game?

Be sure to check out this new offering for yourself.




Customer Service is right at the front of the store.


For many, San Pellegrino bottled water is a very good sign.


The Produce section is well-lit, with inviting displays.
 

Fresh seafood is a must in today's supermarkets.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Board of Ed retreat Saturday: Open to the public!


Plainfield's Board of Ed is holding its retreat Saturday (tomorrow) from 9:30 AM to 3 PM at the Family Success Center (formerly the District HQ) at 504 Madison Avenue.

Is the meeting open to the public? You bet.

There a notice on the District website's home page (see here) with a link to the agenda (see here, PDF).

The day will be busy -- packed with overviews and discussions of ethics, new state guidelines and overviews of critical statutes, as well as team building exercises, crafting a 'value proposition' (an essential to strategic planning), plus setting goals in relation to combatting the charter school influx, infusing technology, and expanding programs for special populations.




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

As Plainfield Council, job candidates eye each other


Judging a candidate's qualifications

Plainfield's City Council is expected to meet and interview on Wednesday candidates being offered the City's top two financial posts (Certified Municipal Finance Officer and Director of Administration & Finance) by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Such situations are fraught with difficulties for both interviewers and interviewees.

Over the years since her very first nominations (which Robinson-Briggs demanded the Council accept without benefit of interviews or resumés, with very unhappy consequences all around), the Council has more and more strongly asserted its role in the 'advise and consent' process.

That reached a high point last year in which the Mayor dropped a nomination for CMFO when the Council failed to give consent (questions about experience had surfaced publicly beforehand).

Having been part of groups -- nonprofits, church and government -- charged with making hiring recommendations concerning key employees, I have always been intrigued by the process and why the outcomes often leave all parties more or less dissatisfied.

Herewith some observations that may be helpful to both the Council and the candidates --

PRINCES vs. GRINDS

Who is better qualified to get things done, to execute the organization's mission, the 'charming, smart and impressive' person who makes you feel comfortable (the 'prince') or the awkward, intense but often monosyllabicly inclined person who is happiest getting the job done and not in spending time 'selling' themselves (the 'grind')?

David Brooks of the New York Times took the matter up in a recent OpEd (see here), which I think illustrates the dilemma.

He suggests we are tempted to be seduced by the 'princes' and that is a mistake. Though he is not talking directly about the choices facing the Council, I think his advice is spot on and helps to illuminate the problems faced by both interviewers and interviewees.

Understanding the dynamic may be the key to dealing with it.

THE COUNCIL EYES THE CANDIDATES

Besides meeting any formal qualifications (certifications, education, etc.), one of the key pieces of information deciders look for is: Will this person be able to DO THE JOB? Experience counts, but can anyone possibly have the range of experience that either of these positions entails?

In the case of the CMFO, what if the candidate hasn't dealt with a situation with Plainfield's size or complexity? Or if they previously had a MORE DEMANDING job, why the interest in Plainfield? Or maybe they're qualified but have NO REAL EXPERIENCE. The Council certainly has its hands full deciding, though having a CMFO among its members (Councilor Mapp) should be very helpful.

As for the
Director of Administration & Finance, Plainfield's unique blend of managing both the financial side of things (purchasing, audit & control, tax assessment and collection) and the City's social services (from WIC to the Senior Center to Plainfield Action Services to the Health Division), demands a breadth of knowledge and experience that few, if any, other communities must contend with in filling their top jobs.

Can any candidate possess the full range of skills and experience Plainfield demands? If not, how can the relative strengths and weaknesses be addressed? And how will the Council know what a wise decision is?



Interview Poker
THE CANDIDATES EYE THE JOBS

Among the constant whines from supporters of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is that viable candidates have shied away from Plainfield because of a) a fractious political climate, and b) non-competitive salaries.

To those who argue that Plainfield is chintzy on the salary side, I say: Show me the numbers. Give everyone chapter and verse about how poorly Plainfield compares to other, SIMILAR situations. I don't think we will show up as shabby as some say. Also, folks should be aware we are in a DEEP RECESSION, and the public has no great interest in seeing public servants given juicy salaries in addition to plum medical and retirement benefits. I think that one is a CANARD.

As for the argument that a fractious political climate would influence the willingness of someone to take a job in Plainfield, we have to ask why it could be said there is political friction.

During the recess at Monday's Council meeting, I chatted with another observer of the Plainfield scene who suggested that the sharp questioning by citizens (including bloggers) and the Council act as a deterrent on possible job candidates.

Could things be a little more well-managed and less contentious if the Robinson-Briggs administration were more transparent, more forthright, and more timely in the business of governing the City?

Would it be helpful if less time were spent by the Administration in obfuscation, dithering, and delay?

Things looked like they would change when Mayor Robinson-Briggs appointed Bibi Taylor as City Administrator. She is smart, makes herself well-informed, and can be decisive. However, recent months have seen her mounting the barricades in defense of the Mayor (as well she must) in clashes with the Council over pressing the Administration to move city business forward -- particularly, but not exclusively, the two job slots under consideration now.

At the same time, with Taylor actually filling THREE job responsibilities, we learn that Mayor Robinson-Briggs has cut back her administrative support staff.

These are the kinds of questions that ought to be on the minds of the applicants who will sit across from the Council on Wednesday evening.

Take the CMFO, whose certification constitutes a license-to-make-a-living. Will Mayor Robinson-Briggs PUBLICLY STATE that she will not meddle or interfere with them in the execution of their job, that she will not ask for special considerations or that any directives of the State be circumvented or countermanded? That would go a long way to making the job offer more attractive, don't you think? What are the chances that will happen?

As for the
Director of Administration & Finance, who serves AT THE PLEASURE OF THE MAYOR, a lot of mental juggling has to be going on to consider accepting such an appointment. Is the possibility of being out of a job in 3½ years at the end of the Mayor's term a deterrent? Or the real possibility of being forced out earlier in a contest of wills with Robinson-Briggs? Would any of this be worth giving up a presently-held job? How much will I have to scramble to learn the unfamiliar parts of the management portfolio, and how will I be judged while I'm getting up to speed?

There will certainly be a lot going through the minds of the candidates as they meet with the Council.

Can Council members get past looking to be made comfortable and figure out if the persons being interviewed will decently perform the job and advance the City's performance?

Can the interviewees get past the pressure to 'sell' themselves and candidly and fearlessly express their ideas about what needs to be done?

Let us hope so, for Plainfield's sake.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Plainfield's Joe Black finally gets his due, thanks to Board of Ed


Ball fields at Hub Stine will be named after baseball legend.

Plainfield sports legend and baseball Hall of Famer Joe Black finally gets his due in his hometown.

In a walk-on item at last night's Board of Ed business meeting, a resolution was unanimously adopted naming the baseball fields at Hub Stine after the late hero and renaming the entire assemblage of facilities (which also includes the Donald Van Blake Tennis Courts) the Hub Stine Sports Complex.

In one fell swoop the Board of Ed cured the embarrassment the Queen City suffered when it came to light that the City's Recreation Division failed to execute a 2004 Council resolution naming the Rock Avenue ball fields after Black, the first African-American to pitch a winning World Series game (see here).

Here are some highlights from the resolution --
...Joe Black brought pride to himself, his family and his community by his myriad accomplishments which include playing baseball for the Negro League Team in Baltimore, Maryland for many years; being named National League 'Rookie of the Year' in 1952 when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers; and being the first African-American to pitch a winning World Series game, also in 1952, against the New York Yankees.

After leaving baseball, Joe Black taught physical education in the Plainfield Public Schools for several years and thereby impacted many young people with his display of intellect, dignity and humanity. He later joined corporate America and rose to the level of Vice President of the Greyhound Bus Company. Joe Black's life example is worthy and deserving of being honored, remembered and passed on to future generations...
Black's nephew, Jason Greer, had appeared before the City Council on July 12, asking for some resolution of the long-promised memorialization of his late uncle, saying that the repeated starts and stops have been stressful on his mother, Phyllis Greer, who is the late baseball hero's sister.

Let's hope the Board of Ed and other city officials arrange an appropriate marker and ceremony to bring this matter to a final, fitting close.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dealing with Mayor, Council's best tool is extreme pressure


A judicious use of pressure, publicly applied, seems to motivate the Mayor

Memo to Plainfield City Council: Looks like your best tool to get some action out of the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is pressure -- constant, extreme and public. Very public.

Last night's Council meeting offers several good examples --

MAYORAL APPOINTMENTS

At almost the last minute of the last hour of the last day of her third deadline extension, Mayor Robinson-Briggs finally came up with a nominee for the Certified Municipal Finance Officer position, though without informing the Council before the meeting or bringing ANY documentation to show that the 'deal' is real.

Likewise for the bunny-out-of-the-hat announcement that an offer will be made -- to a 'qualified' Plainfield resident -- of the Director of Finance and Administration's job. No details yet.

Nevertheless, Council kept the pressure on (the right thing!), scheduling a special meeting for Wednesday, July 28 to interview the two candidates, holding in reserve two resolutions to put into effect should the meeting fail to result in confirmations.

JOBS-TRAINING CONTRACT

Though some Councilors were not happy that nonprofits with expertise in job training did not bid on the contract ('The Incubator' is a small business development outfit, with no track record in job training), the resolution passed -- but not without acknowledgment by the Robinson-Briggs administration of concerns including the notorious proposal of $70,000 to buy a van for the program.

DPWUD Director Brown suggested the administration was thinking of outsourcing the transportation aspect of the program to a transport service -- another example of how public pressure can clear the minds of administrators.

(Unmentioned by the Robinson-Briggs administration in the whole discussion was that the CDBG grant, originally intended to be executed by Plainfield Action Services and submitted, but withdrawn, last October needs to get crackin'. The program must be up and running by September and the funds spent by the end of the year.)

UEZ REVOLVING LOAN FUND

Mindful that the future of the Urban Enterprise Zone program is uncertain under the Christie administration, the Council was supportive of the proposed Revolving Loan Fund application but expressed concerns lest the program be poorly managed. Among the issues: Who will run the program; How will the governance structure be set up; Using industry best practices in underwriting and loan monitoring.

The Robinson-Briggs administration promised these matters will come up for discussion if and when the application is approved (no sure thing).

Advice to Council: Learn from past experience and don't take the Administration's word for it without proof of follow-through.

ROBINSON-BRIGGS AND THE BOURBONS

With such potentially heartening news for the Council and the public, you would think the Robinson-Briggs administration would have alerted them before the Council meeting about the proposed appointments.

But no, it was not to be so.

Robinson-Briggs' communications style betrays an overly high view of the prerogatives of the office of mayor while at the same time completely underestimating the image this insolence projects.

Case in point: When the Council learned that Robinson-Briggs had a resumé and an offer-of-employment letter for the CMFO, Council President Annie McWilliams recessed the Council meeting to allow time for the Administration to retrieve same from City Hall and share with the Council.

Upon resuming the meeting, when McWilliams inquired whether the documents were available, City Administrator Bibi Taylor said that no one had gone to fetch the documents because 'the Administration holds that this is not the proper forum'.

Not long after, Mayor Robinson-Briggs concluded her cameo appearance by leaving the meeting.

The audience took all this in, intently.

Were Robinson-Briggs paying attention, she would have noticed the frisson and murmurs of support that McWilliams' maneuver elicited from the audience.

Alas, it appears she was not.

Like the Bourbons, of whom Talleyrand is said to have remarked 'they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing'.

The Council, on the other hand, can show that it has learned how to motivate this Mayor and that it will not forget.

And that would be good for Plainfield.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Could real cost of Tepper's basement top $1.6 million?


Asm Jerry Green joined state and local officials in toasting
the Tepper's redevelopment project.

Mystery swirls endlessly around Plainfield's Tepper's basement renovation project, not least what the total cost is going to be.

After the Robinson-Briggs administration was able to frustrate the Council's intention for a public tour of the premises during its 'retreat' in the closing days of June (see my post here), the Courier's intrepid beat reporter, Mark Spivey, was able to get into the Horizons building in an effort to inform the paper's readers of just what the city got for its $460,000 'plain vanilla box' (see story here).

But now, I'm wondering what the total is the Robinson-Briggs administration is prepared to sink into this evidently bottomless pit.

The administration has a resolution (R291-10) on tonight's Council agenda to submit an application to the state's UEZ grantors requesting $800,000 in project funding to implement 'Phase III' of the city's proposed closed circuit surveillance system for the downtown business district. (Quick quiz: How much was spent on Phases I and II and when?)


City has already applied for $345,000 for the CCTV project.

In the meantime, we are still waiting to hear on the Robinson-Briggs administration's request for $345,000 in ARRA (President Obama's Stimulus program) funding for 'the rehabilitation of vacant and unfinished space to establish a CCTV monitoring center...'

(Note that the space in question -- the Tepper's basement -- had had $460,000 in federal monies spent on it by this time, but was still being described by the Robinson-Briggs administration as 'unfinished'.)

These three grants alone total more than $1.6 million. Would that be enough to make a publicly presentable basement?

The Council needs to insist that it gets to make a thorough inspection of the Tepper's basement -- and the media should be invited to tag along.

As for the cancelled tour from the Council's retreat, the Courier reports (story here) --

...[t]he council ... continues to await a tour of the space that was requested months ago. Robinson-Briggs said the tour was scheduled to take place during the council's recent retreat, but it was postponed because several council members were not in attendance...
But the Mayor misremembers.

There were, after all, members of the public present at the Council's 'retreat' when Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson explained there would be no tour.

Williamson did quite a bit of tapdancing in denying the tour -- beginning with asserting that [Public Works Superintendent] John Louise needed time to 'make it presentable', and then suggesting that 'the landlord may have reasons -- of safety -- why the general public can't be allowed in', and only lastly offering that since there were only three councilors present (McWilliams, Mapp and Carter) that it would be better to postpone the tour. (Quotes are from my notes taken that day.)

Who is 'the landlord'?

The space has been dedicated to the city in perpetuity, so is the city not the landlord?

Secondly, the 'safety' issue needs to be cleared up. What safety issue?

The building has 75 apartments, mostly occupied, and must have a certificate of occupancy -- meaning that it must be safe and habitable. Additionally, the fire department is responsible for assuring that fire codes are met.

Presuming these are all current, what possible safety conditions could there be with simply taking a stroll through the 'plain vanilla' basement?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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'Incubator' contract renews question of missing $97,000


Original Community Services grant was awarded for $267,000
(or $267,909?), per screenshot from August 2009 ARRA update.

Missing from the Robinson-Briggs administration's resolution (R298-10) to the Council tonight is any mention of the approximately $97,000 from this grant that it could not account for when pressed by the Plainfield Action Services (PAS) board last October (see my full post here) --

...[i]f you check the secret City web pages on the Stimulus (see here), you will see on Page 5 a 'Community Development Block Grant' for an unspecified amount on which the City was 'awaiting agency guidance'. Was that the grant in question? Could be, but since the City has never updated those web pages, you would be taking a shot in the dark ...

Maybe we'll have better luck checking the ARRA update posted by the Robinson-Briggs administration in early August (see here, in PDF). If you check slide 6 of the 9-slide show, you will find an item entitled 'Community Services Block Grant', which at $267,000 is the closest in any city documentation to the actual grant in question. The City does not list its purpose, only that it was a formula-based grant, and has been awarded. I'm guessing that this is the grant in question."
The original ARRA (President Obama's 'Stimulus' program) grant was for $267,909 for a jobs-training program.

Plainfield's City Council has before it a resolution to award a contract for nearly $185,000 tonight to 'The Incubator' for job training (including the acquisition of a $70,000 van).

This is presumably the rump of the PAS grant which Robinson-Briggs withdrew last fall after questions about the unaccounted-for $97,000 were raised publicly.

So here we are, nine months later, and the Robinson-Briggs administration is now proposing to outsource the execution of this grant. (I won't mention that whoever was out of work then, has most likely been out of work for the intervening nine months, hopefully not waiting for a sign of the Mayor's sense of urgency.)

Questions the Council may want to consider before any decision is made include --

  • What became of the approximately $97,000 from the original grant unaccounted for?

  • On what basis is this contract being given out? Was there an open public bidding process?

  • What about that pesky $70,000 van? Will the City have title to it? Who will drive it? Who will pay the driver? What will happen to the van once the program's funding runs out?

  • When the grant runs out, will the program fold, or will the City be asked to take it on permanently?
More financial mumbo-jumbo from the Robinson-Briggs administration?


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Police: Car chases instead of guns over the weekend


Plainfielders caught a break from gangsta shootouts and shootings this past weekend, but the Police Division still had its hands full, though with high-speed car chases instead.

Friday evening, State Police reportedly pulled a car over in Scotch Plains and found the driver to have outstanding warrants and traffic violations. The driver sped away, almost hitting a Trooper, and was joined in the chase by Plainfield Police Division once the car crossed Terrill Road and East Front Street. Though the driver got away, authorities can ID him (how dumb was that?).

Sunday night, detectives from Plainfield's Narcotics Squad pursued a drug dealer who attempted to evade a bust -- through five towns, ending in a crash into a parked car. The suspect was apprehended; no injuries reported.





-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

duCretopoly?


Illustration of classic VW van won this year's Alumni Award.

Plainfielders are lucky to have a unique art resource -- duCret School of Art -- in the community, as I am reminded every year at the annual student show at Swain Galleries.

This year is no exception, as was in evidence yesterday evening at the show's opening
(on view through August 14).

Whether your interest is portraits, still lifes, or fantasy illustration; whether you prefer oil, acrylics or multimedia, this year's student show will intrigue and delight.

More than that, summer classes and youth art workshops are ongoing throughout July and August (see the online catalog here, PDF).

duCretopoly?

One of the entries was a duCret-centered riff on the classic Monopoly board game, with school activities, interests (and penalties!), plus properties featuring familiar Plainfield streets (get a load of those 'prices').

I got a laugh out of the Monopoly 'money' featuring a portrait of duCret's director Frank Falotico. Nice touch! Now, if he could only pass them at the bank.

Stop by the galleries and catch the show and Swain's many other offerings, Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 AM - 5 PM; and Saturdays from 9:30 AM - 4 PM.

Swain Galleries is at East 7th Street and Watchung Avenue, across from Plainfield's historic Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church. Parking off Watchung Avenue.




Watercolor in the style of a mosaic was an eye-catcher.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Jerry and 'violation by signs'


A 2009 primary campaign sign of Jerry's spotted yesterday.
Plainfielders got an earful when pranksters loaded up Assemblyman Jerry Green's curbside with campaign signs of the Democratic primary's victorious candidate for the Wards 2/3 nomination, Rebecca Williams, evidently on election night.

Jerry told everyone who would listen that he felt 'violated' (see
my post here, the Assemblyman's post here, and Mark Spivey's article in the Courier here) and there were dark threats of pursuing the matter as 'criminal mischief'.

In fact, Jerry made so much noise about it that the Courier felt compelled to editorialize about it on June 11, declaring that the incident wasn't worth the 'outrage' (see here).

That sense of 'violation' came to mind when I caught sight of one of Jerry's 2009 primary campaign signs languishing (still) on a fence alongside a busily traveled Plainfield street, more than 13 months after it should have stopped 'violating' our visual space. Is it a prank? An oversight? Or is it 'criminal mischief'?

Whatever, I guess the public has a right to feel 'violated'.


Jerry complained he felt 'violated' when pranksters decked
his curbside with Primary winner Williams' signs.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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