The needler in the haystack.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Joe Gutenkauf stricken

Longtime Plainfield Democratic and community activist Joe Gutenkauf suffered a stroke on Wednesday, December 22, says his wife Dottie in a recently received email.

Rushed to Somerset Medical Center by ambulance, his condition was stabilized and he was subsequently transferred to the hospital's Neurology unit this past Friday.

Dottie reports that he will be getting physical therapy and will probably have to go into a rehab setting for a while before being able to come home.

I have known and worked with both Joe and Dottie for many years.

They are both activists of the first water, having invested themselves tirelessly over the years in every important community issue -- from the first elections for school board to the struggle to stop expansion of the Abbott Nursing Home in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District to the closing of Muhlenberg Hospital.

While we have not always seen eye to eye over local Democratic internal politics, there is no denying the Gutenkauf's commitment, and when larger issues are at stake, they have been willing to take a stand on principle (I am thinking particularly of the support for Maryanne Connolly's 2000 run for U.S. Congress, where they differed publicly from Union County Dem Chair Charlotte DeFilippo).

In her most recent foray at the mike, concerning Mayor Robinson-Briggs' unsuccessful attempt to fire City Administrator Bibi Taylor, Dottie trenchantly remarked that professionals don't need to like each other to work together, and then cracked the audience up with her sly comparison to hers and Joe's marriage, saying that after 47 years of married life they occasionally had their disagreements, but that they certainly never would consider divorce. Everyone enjoyed a hearty laugh.

As Dottie points out, 2010 has been a difficult year for Joe. I wish them both well, and especially a speedy recovery and return home for Joe.

You may send notes of encouragement and get well wishes to both Joe and Dottie --

Josef & Dottie Gutenkauf
414 Randolph Road
Plainfield, NJ 07060
or by email to Dottie at dottiegutenkauf@gmail.com.

I am sure they will be most welcome.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Drive-by shooting Tuesday night caps weekend of gunplay


Elmwood Gardens, site of much gunplay.

Plainfield was given no holiday reprieve from gunfire and gunplay.

Reports of shots fired over the Christmas weekend were capped by getting word yesterday that Elmwood Gardens was once again the scene of violence.

Was told that two cars were in involved in a drive-by shooting incident overnight Tuesday, in which shots were fired at people outside one of the buildings, causing folks to scramble for cover in the snow.

No one was hit, but the crime scene unit found plenty of shell casings.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

PMUA: Weather and hearing messy, but Commissioners vote on rates


The weather outside was frightful, but inside, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's rate hearing Tuesday night was somewhat less than delightful.

Mark Spivey, the Courier's Plainfield beat reporter, sat behind me -- you will want to read his story as soon as it is up; I am going to focus on some issues with the PMUA's argument and the hearing process itself. [12:50 PM: Courier story is up, see here.]

What started out as a seemingly tightly organized presentation became messier as the evening wore on, not entirely because many of the residents in attendance were angry in varying degrees.

The evening got under way with video depicting ILLEGAL DUMPING, evidently from a security camera on a PMUA building and pointed down Cottage Place toward Roosevelt Avenue. It was a vivid visual underscoring the problem the PMUA argued was at the heart of the proposed changes in SHARED SERVICES RATES, which cover (among other things) cleaning up behind illegally dumped items throughout the community.

Unfortunately, the video's impact was mostly lost because it was not well integrated into the meat-and-potatoes of the evening, the presentation on the budget and the proposed adjustments to the schedule of solid waste service charges and fees.

The PowerPoint presentation, honchoed by three PMUA consultants, covered the proposed budget (including both revenues and expenses) and allocations between 'shared services' and 'solid waste services' to billable entities (households, businesses, etc.), as well as testimony that the whole was developed in a way that was both 'necessary and reasonable'.

PMUA counsel Leslie London then opened the hearing for public cross-examination of the testimony from the consultants.

Ratepayer attendees, between 15 and 20, palpably unhappy and with inchoate criticisms, peppered the consultants and senior staff with questions, including --

  • How were the changes supposed to curb illegal dumping? (We hope it will encourage ratepayers to use the two free bulk pickups per year instead of illegal dumping.)
  • What percentage of illegal dumping is attributed to non-residents vs. residents? (Because the picture is fragmented -- PMUA, police and Publlic Works are separately involved -- there is no complete answer.)
  • Was Plainfield compared to other communities with utilities authorities to give some perspective? (No.)
  • Would overall costs be lowered if the PMUA got out of its contract with the Union County Utilities Authority? (Yes, but we can't break the long-term contract.)
  • Please explain individual expense items such as 'water', 'training', 'employee events', 'wireless services', etc. (Each was explained.)
There were questions for which no ready answers were available, such as explaining the difference (approximately 1,000 units) between billable households last year vs. the proposed budget, and why sewerage units were approximately 3,000 more numerous than solid waste units.

At length, ratepayer questions were exhausted and Counsel signaled the Commissioners were going  into executive session.

This created something of a tumult, with audience members believing the Commissioners meant to vote on the resolution out of public view.

Ms. London quickly retreated and announced the vote on the resolution would proceed.

Before it did, Commission chairperson Harold Mitchell invited commissioners to comment.

This turned out to be unfortunate.

Commissioner Tracey Brown, after getting some clarifications from the consultants, then turned to criticizing the audience, saying that she didn't think they understood the severity of the problem in the 4th Ward as she did, that she felt the audience reaction to the video of illegal dumping was inappropriately lighthearted, and that she had welcomed the opportunity to become a commissioner just because illegal dumping in the 4th Ward was so rampant (including in front of her church on South Second Street).

Then Commissioner Alex Toliver began his comments, which were shortly interrupted by an outburst from ratepayer Bob Chanda. The two got into a shouting match which Mitchell and London finally quelled after threatening to eject Chanda -- but not before he got the last word in.

No other commissioners offered comments and the resolution was read by Ms. London and went to a vote.

The commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the rate change. No surprise to this observer.

If I were a Commissioner or a member of the PMUA's executive staff, I would have expected that the only people who would turn out on such a nasty evening would be those who have an issue with the proposed rate increase. No surprise there.

But the hearing could have benefited from better organization by those who were running it.

Here are some suggestions --

1. Have OUTSIDE EYES Review Everything
  • This could have made the meeting much more effective, with less confusion -- and resulting feelings on the part of attendees that the PMUA is not being forthcoming.
  • For instance --
    • If the video is important, integrate it into the process with a well-scripted voice over.
    • Avoid confusion by reviewing, and correcting, vague words, lingo and shop-talk:
    • 'water': is that bottled water, or water provided by NJ American Water Co.?
    • 'training': for whom? Line workers? Administrative staff? Senior staff? Commissioners?
    • 'lot' and 'household' charges: don't assume the audience will understand, illustrate with examples (this was finally done in the process of answering a question)
2. Anticipate Possible Questions
  • Of course you're going to be asked if you can peg the percentage of dumping from out-of-towners.
  • Of course you're going to be asked to compare the PMUA to other utilities authorities (the PMUA has in the past made such a comparison public).
  • Of course someone is liable to ask for year-to-year comparisons on any number of items.
  • Be prepared.
3. Drown the Audience in Facts
  • Handouts! Handouts! Handouts!
  • Nothing makes an audience more suspicious than giving the sense there is information being withheld.
  • Preparing handouts of a PowerPoint presentation is best practice, common sense, and an appreciated courtesy. Why not make yourself a hero?
  • Put the data on the website just before the meeting and tell the audience how to access it. We are in the digital age, for Pete's sake!
4. Decide Who Is In Charge
  • Put one person in charge and stick with the plan.
  • Who was in charge, Ms. London or Commissioner Mitchell? It wasn't always clear.
  • Control of the meeting should reside in one person, who guides everything along. When he was President of the City Council, Mr. Mitchell would make sure ALL questions were addressed THROUGH HIMSELF to whomever. This way, questioners got the attention they deserved and the proper party was directed to respond, without the meeting devolving into impromptu back-and-forths and becoming unfocused.
5. Train Commissioners to Behave Professionally
  • The PMUA Commissioners have a fiduciary responsibility to the ratepayers.
  • They also have the responsibility to hear out ratepayers -- no matter how angry or ill-informed -- sorting out kernels of fact from the shells of emotion in which they may be wrapped and addressing the facts only.
  • It is not good governance for Commissioners to attack ratepayers or cast aspersions on their motives.
  • The Commissioners should be trained in good governance techniques and held to higher standards than were in evidence last night.
Though there are many questions to be asked of the PMUA, I have always thought it has a well-focused mission that needs better tub-thumping.

Absent proof of real misdeeds, there is a reason for it to stay around.

Angry ratepayers notwithstanding.




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Plainfield Blizzard of 2010 pix


Patio behind our house.

Two views of Plainfield after the Blizzard of 2010.

Above, the patio at our house. The torch stands mark the near and far ends of the patio. Two feet of snow? I didn't even try to get out back and measure it.

The picture below is the view from snowbound Questover, courtesy of Randy and Cheri
Bullock.

Do you have any blizzard pix to share? Family, pets, vehicles, views? Send them to me at plaindan@gmail.com and I'll post them.



The view from a snowbound Questover.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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PMUA rate-setting hearing tonight

 

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority will hold a rate-setting hearing on the 'shared services' portion of it service offerings this evening at 6:00 PM at PMUA headquarters.

The courts have recently upheld the PMUA role in collecting solid waste in public areas (such as downtown curbside trash containers) and in removing illegally dumped articles wherever found throughout the city.

However, the proposed rate increase for this portion of your PMUA bill is 61%. If you have questions or statements, this is where they should be aired.

Owing to the weather, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to ARRIVE A FEW MINUTES EARLY.

PMUA meetings are legendary for their brevity and for starting on time.

For more information, check the Authority website (here) or DumpPMUA (here), where you will find pertinent links in BLUE at the top of the home page.


PLAINFIELD MUNICIPAL UTILITIES AUTHORITY
RATE HEARING


Today | December 28

6:00 PM Sharp
PMUA Headquarters
127 Roosevelt Avenue
(Corner of East 2nd Street)

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Mayor Robinson-Briggs proposes a criminal act at budget hearing


Robinson-Briggs make outrageous proposal at budget hearing.

Drama at the budget hearing Monday night? You betcha!

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs put the icing on the cake by proposing a criminal act.

Here's what happened.

After the public
hearing on the proposed FY2011 budget had closed at 8:59 PM, the Council began its comments preparatory to the vote.

There were two main points of discussion: the Recreation Division and folding purchasing responsibilities into the CFO's office.

Three councilors -- Rivers, Reid and Burney -- got into hot water by discussing what amounted to personnel matters, despite being warned by Council President McWilliams.

Councilor Rivers repeatedly brought up the shift of $30,000 funding in the Recreation Division from salaries to program expenses, asking if the Director wasn't being cut to part-time. McWilliams and Mapp answered that the Council does not set personnel decisions; it allocates funds to the Administration, which is then responsible for how it handles those matters.

Councilor Reid wanted the $30,000 in Recreation moved back to salaries. However, he crossed the line in pressing not to have Purchasing folded into the CFO's office by mentioning the CFO's 'health problems'.

Councilor Burney took a different tack on the $30,000 and began discussing personnel.

Council President McWilliams finally intervened, saying the Council could not legally discuss the layoff plan, bringing it to a halt.

After Burney finished outlining his objections to the budget, McWilliams gave Mayor Robinson-Briggs the floor to deliver her comments on the proposed budget.

Before getting to the substance of her comments, Mayor Robinson-Briggs asked videographer Brian Cox to delete Councilor Reid's comments on the CFO's health.

Chairperson Mapp objected loudly, saying that was illegal.

Mapp reiterated the point when his turn for comments came, reminding everyone that the videotape is a public record and that tampering with it is a criminal act.

I have to give the Mayor points for realizing Councilor Reid had crossed the boundary of what can be discussed, but to suggest curing that by committing a crime?

Either Robinson-Briggs knew she was proposing a criminal act, or she didn't.

Either way we have a problem.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Budget drama tonight?



Plainfield's City Council's final meeting of 2010 is tonight, at 7:30 PM in City Hall Library.

The agenda setting portion (for the January  3rd reorganization meeting) will share billing with the FY2011 budget hearing, which is set for 8:00 PM.

Will there be some drama?

Hey, this is Plainfield! What do you think?

Linda Carter's resignation, effective today, comes as a surprise to many, especially with the crucial budget vote still to be taken.

Without Carter, there are only six Councilors, five of whom must vote together to adopt the budget.

Readers of Councilor Burney's blog (see here) have been warned he is poised to vote AGAINST the budget tonight.

His argument -- which includes NEW ITEMS he did not bring up in the Council's public discussion of the budget amendments last week -- is that he believes the 'CoC' (certificate of compliance) program is a 'non-core' service and should be dispensed with rather than folding the Purchasing Division into the CFO's office.

(As someone who made his living for years in the real estate business, I can attest the CoC inspections can be a pain in the butt and sometimes well beyond what folks would consider reasonable conditions are placed upon the parties to the sale of a property. That being said, I well remember -- as Councilor Burney cannot, since he was not in Plainfield at the time -- the downward spiral of the conditions of three quarters of Plainfield's housing stock WITHOUT ANY CHECK on conditions at the only pressure point that exists -- the point of transfer of a property. It was a heated discussion and homeowners, real estate professionals and other weighed in. Having heard all sides, the Council adopted the present system. What would make us decide it is 'not a core service' at this point?)

Councilor Burney might want to reflect on the fact that the
'CORE SERVICE' OF PURCHASING is NOT being abandoned; it is being kept but moved elsewhere. So what's the argument?

So, with Carter gone and Burney set to vote against it, the remaining five members of the Council will all have to vote FOR the budget or see all the carefully crafted savings go up in smoke as the process is re-started, including a new layoff plan that will have to include more people since all savings are calculated on a budget being adopted tonight. (A point which Bibi Taylor repeatedly made to all parties during the budget deliberations.)

Drama.

But, since it's Plainfield, to be expected.


PS: Just for fun, type 'budget drama' (without the quotes) into a Google image search and see if you recognize any image in the first two or three rows.



CITY COUNCIL BUDGET HEARING AND AGENDA MEETING
Today | December 27
Time is 7:30 PM
City Hall Library
515 Watchung Avenue


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: December 26 home ID



The arrangement of the windows across the front keyed my memory.

Three fourths of Plainfield Today responders to 'Hidden Plainfield: It's a Wonderful Life...' (see here) nailed it. The house is on the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Abbond Court.

Not a ringer for Ma Bailey's boardinghouse from
'It's a Wonderful Life', of course, but the arrangement of the windows across the front and the fencing made a connection of sorts for me.

Abbond Court is the first corner past the Health Center.
Next week begins the brave new year of 2011.

Where shall we go then?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hidden Plainfield: It's a Wonderful Life...


Today's Hidden Plainfield house came to mind from
Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life'.

What do Plainfielders -- and everyone else -- get to watch on TV at the holidays?

Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life', of course (see here and here).

(Please forgive for the moment the fact that Capra's progressive social vision in 1946 was still depicted in all-white terms; this is a series about houses.)

George Bailey's struggle to protect his New England home town of Bedford Falls from the wiles of the unscrupulous Henry F. Potter, leads him to contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve, believing he has lost all opportunities to counter Potter and that he is 'worth more dead than alive'.

An angel sent to rescue George shows him what the world would be like if he had never had a chance to do his good works. Among the scenes in the alternate reality is one of his mother as a bitter widow, running a boarding house known as 'Ma Bailey's'.



The fictional 'Ma Bailey's boardiinghouse' was built on the back lot of RKO studios.

While the original of Ma Bailey's boardinghouse was built on the back lot at RKO studios in Encino, California, it put me in mind of today's mystery home.

Do you know where it is?

Answer tomorrow.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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What time is that Council meeting?


Just what time IS tomorrow night's Council meeting? SEE CORRRECTED TIME BELOW.
It's a strange animal, billed as both an agenda-setting session (for the January 3rd re-org meeting) and the public hearing and adoption of the FY2011 budget.

At first, I thought being an AGENDA SESSION meant it would be at 7:30, and in City Hall Library. That's the way Bernice lists it in her post today (see here) and the way I had it on the CLIPS calendar for a couple of days.

Then I was told by some Council members that it would be at 8:00 PM.

Looking to the Council's online agenda was no help: the meeting is simply listed as December 27th (see here).

What to do? Check with the Clerk's office on Monday, I guess: (908) 753-3222.



CITY COUNCIL BUDGET HEARING AND AGENDA MEETING
Monday | December 27
CORRECTED TIME : 7:30 PM
City Hall Library
515 Watchung Avenue


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Moravian Star of Christmas

 

To this farm boy gone to college in Pennsylvania Dutch country, one of the delights of the Christmas holidays was the ornament known as the Moravian Star, a many-pointed three-dimensional geometry lesson traditionally manufactured by Moravian communities.

My college was not far from Bethlehem, founded in the 18th-century by Moravians (the other well-known Moravian community is Winston-Salem, North Carolina).

The star could be seen on treetops, in putzes, as porch lights, and suspended high in church naves. Its popularity had spread and it was seen in many other denominations (including the one to which I belonged) other than the Moravians who had given it its start.

They are a prominent fixture in the holiday marketing of the Bethlehem of today, which is a sort of Disneyized re-invention of the working-class and college town I had known as a young man.

No matter, they are still spectacular pieces of craftsmanship -- and a good visual geometry lesson.

Merry Christmas to all!


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Luminaria light up Netherwood neighborhood tonight


One of Plainfield's most popular holiday attractions returns tonight for the fifth time -- the Netherwood Heights neighbors' luminaria display.

Hundreds of candles will glow in paper bags along the streets of the historic district beginning at twilight.

See more details at the Netherwood Heights Neighbors website (here) or the Courier article (here).

A peaceful night as the Queen City awaits the birth of the King of Peace.


Map from Netherwood Neighbors website for 2010 luminaria display.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Should Sharon go?


When Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he knew it was the point of no return. We don't know if Mayor Robinson-Briggs
has understood she may have crossed her own point of no return.

Has Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs crossed her Rubicon, her point of no return?

T
hough there have been many missteps over five years under her administration, none has generated as much public outcry as her attempt to fire the popular City Administrator Bibi Taylor effective Christmas Day, and just days before her expected delivery of her third child.

Bibi escaped that fate, thanks to the unanimous vote of the City Council.

Bibi's baby, Lena Elyse, arrived early yesterday morning -- nearly two weeks early, no doubt owing to the stress induced by Robinson-Briggs' moves.

In an editorial today (see here), the Courier notes the Taylor incident is just the latest in a --

...troubling and sometimes baffling series of missteps that are accelerating concerns about her competence to run the city...
Indeed.

Followers of this blog may have noticed the increasing number of comments over the past few months calling for Robinson-Briggs' recall, especially in the week since Robinson-Briggs moved to fire Taylor.

Fellow blogger Jim Pivnichny also raised the question recently (see here).

The first thing those who are interested in recalling Mayor Robinson-Briggs should know is that state law precludes undertaking such an effort BEFORE the elected official in question has served out a year of their term of office.

Sharon reaches that milestone January 1st.

In the meantime, I am posting a poll (see top of column at right) in which readers may vote whether they are or are not in favor of recalling, as Piv so juicily put it, 'the Queen of the Queen City'.


Note: The poll will only accept one vote per person.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

With Gallon gone, what's next for the schools?


Plainfield's Board of Ed now must choose a new Superintendent.

The state has finally put its seal of approval on the deal ending the Plainfield Board of Ed's contract with Steve Gallon III, as the Courier's Mark Spivey reports (see here) today.

Though a half-year's salary may seem expensive, it may be the best real-world compromise compared to a prohibitive cost several times that to the District if it had pursued its legal options against the erstwhile Superintendent. On the other hand, if the Board had simply let the criminal charges Gallon faces play out and he was found guilty, Plainfield might have escaped paying him anything.

But the outcomes of criminal cases are always a gamble, and the Superintendent would have continued to pull down his salary while his attorneys played to run the clock out. So, this may be the best deal possible, even if Board members Logan-Leach, Hernandez and Edwards think it too lenient.

Now comes the really hard part.

Finding an EXCELLENT superintendent is now the problem of the entire Board, but even more so of the Grand Slam majority, who campaigned on a platform of how the previous choice had got it wrong (never mind that one of the key 'choosers' was Grand Slammer Wilma Campbell, who waxed eloquent over Gallon when he was selected -- which just goes to show you it ain't all that easy to pick a real winner.)

How will this Board conduct its search?

Will it work through the traditional NJ School Boards Association or once again try an expensive outside consultant? Will the process be devoid of political interference and cronyism?

I am far less concerned about transparency than getting a SEASONED, HONEST, and EFFECTIVE new superintendent.

Having sat on my share of search committees, and had my share of disappointments in choices made, my only words of advice are: make it the best possible search committee you can, with the best possible members you can find, and BEWARE THE CANDIDATE WHO IS AN 'INTERVIEW ACER'.

In the best of all possible worlds, the interview should probably count for only 10% of the decision's weight, instead of the 90% that often appears to be the case.

I wish the Board of Ed good luck; much hangs on their success.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mayor's firing of Bibi Taylor overturned in a night of drama


Bibi Taylor (with tan scarf) and her husband amid well-wishers.

High drama was the order of the evening at Plainfield's City Council meeting Monday night.

When the Council finally got to the matter on most peoples' minds -- Mayor Robinson-Briggs' termination of City Administrator Bibi Taylor -- it was approaching midnight. Without discussion, the Council voted UNANIMOUSLY to 'disapprove' (the technical term according to the city charter) the termination, making the mayor's action null and void, thus giving Plainfielders, and Bibi, an early Christmas present.

Bibi, who is due in just a few days, sat with her husband in the midst of the throng of well-wishers and smiled as the room broke into applause upon the completion of the unanimous roll call vote.

But that was not the only matter on which Robinson-Briggs was turned back last night.


Part of crowd that still packed Council chambers at 11:45 PM.
The council chambers were packed at 8:00 PM. At 8:18, the Council adjourned to executive session elsewhere in the building, leaving the courtroom to the audience (a nice gesture, considering how bitterly cold it was outside).

Council President Annie McWilliams had said it would be for 45 minutes to an hour, but it turned out to take almost two hours. City Administrator Bibi Taylor, accompanied by her husband, was present for the discussion of her case in camera (she HAD been given her Rice notice on Friday).

Though Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was not present in the room before the executive session, she did come in (accompanied by a bodyguard whom I am told was on street duty, but was instead accompanying the mayor) at 10:20 PM, as the Council was resuming the public meeting. The implication was that she had been at the closed session.

After passing eight ordinances on second reading, the meeting turned to the public comment portion. Twenty-eight people got up to speak, mainly on either the Bibi Taylor matter or the Recreation Division budget.

All of those who spoke on behalf of Ms. Taylor cited her professionalism, her attention to detail, her mastery of vast quantities of information and data, and her skill in advocating for and defending the proposals of the very mayor who tried to fire her, as well as the speed with which she gets back to people and her straight-arrow attitude toward dissembling.

Sadly, those who spoke up for Parks and Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn had been misinformed (by whom I wonder?) about the budget and the Council's role. After a number of speakers had spoken in quite strong language and one in particular threatened the Council with retaliation at the polls, Council President McWilliams reminded all that the Council's only responsibility is to strike the budget and allocate funding, adding that how the funds are then spent is up to the Administration.

(Let it be said that the Robinson-Briggs administration has had no problem finding ways to circumvent what any reasonable person might expect is the way monies should be spent at City Hall.)

Assemblyman Jerry Green, who was not present last night, has found the whole imbroglio embarrassing to the City, and his call for Robinson-Briggs to rescind the firing may have played a role in solidifying the Council's unanimity in overturning the dismissal.


Mayor Robinson-Briggs tries to make herself heard over hubbub
after the Council unanimously overturns Taylor's dismissal.
With regard to running the city while Bibi is on maternity leave, the best that can be said is that the mayor's bench is not very deep. Though tapping Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson as acting city administrator in Taylor's absence is perhaps her best option, Mayor Robinson-Briggs has yet to articulate a full plan for the time Taylor will be out. (For a full discussion of that portion of the meeting, see Bernice at Plaintalker II here.)

Oh yes, the OTHER MATTER on which Mayor Robinson-Briggs was turned back last night? Unanimous passage of Resolution 427-10 overrides the mayor's veto of ordinance MC 2010-28, adopted on November 22 and setting a lower bid threshold than the state's. With this unanimous override of her veto the ordinance will now go into effect.

But of one thing you can be sure: the drama is not over. There will be ample time to bash, thrash and rehash the Council's budget amendments -- including to the Recreation Division -- at next Monday night's budget hearing, where the public gets to comment again before its final adoption.

Life in Plainfield is anything but dull.



CITY COUNCIL BUDGET HEARING AND AGENDA MEETING
Monday | December 27
7:30 PM
City Hall Library
515 Watchung Avenue


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Profiles in courage? Council faces tough decisions tonight.


Cover of the paperback edition of the book that made JFK a national figure.
Plainfield's City Council must somehow take up, and resolve, the matter of City Administrator Bibi Taylor's firing tonight.

I am put in mind of John F. Kennedy's famous book Profiles in Courage (more here), published in 1955 and instrumental in giving him the national recognition that undergirded his successful run for the Presidency a few short years later.

Those profiled were eight U.S. Senators, drawn from across the country's history, who faced up to politically challenging issues and made a decision, as the paperback edition's cover copy said, '[to risk] their personal and public lives to do the one thing that seemed in itself right'.

Tonight, Plainfield's seven councilors must face their own difficult decision, thrown into this quandary by the precipitous action of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs in firing Bibi Taylor unexpectedly and just days before her third child is due.

Not only this, but we have no evidence that Ms. Taylor received due process, including a Rice notice (giving Taylor the opportunity to have her case heard in either executive session with the Council, or at a public hearing).

Has Mayor Robinson-Briggs boxed both herself and the Council in?

It seems highly unlikely that the Council can legally discuss the Taylor firing in the executive session which has been called for the beginning of tonight's meeting, if Taylor has not been given a Rice notice.

On the other hand, Robinson-Briggs indicated in Mark Spivey's Courier story (see here) that she was not at liberty to discuss the circumstances of the firing on the advice of legal counsel. Whether that is Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson or private counsel for the Mayor was not made clear.

At any rate, if the Mayor cannot discuss the matter in executive session or in a public meeting, she has really boxed herself in. If she cannot explain the 'public interest' requirement of the City's charter [section 3.5(b)], what is there left for her to do?

As for the question of day-to-day operations of the City, Mayor Robinson-Briggs snubbed an opportunity to explain her plans to the Council and the public last Monday, before Taylor was fired.

Notwithstanding the mayor's act of termination, it would be unseemly of the Council to discuss with the Mayor in camera a matter (day-to-day operations) which they previously had determined to air in public session.

Distasteful as it decidedly is for the Council to act in the sphere of appointments normally reserved for the Mayor, her willfulness appears to leave them no other option.

With Assemblyman Jerry Green, who is also chairperson of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee, also weighing in on the question in favor of Robinson-Briggs' rescission of the firing, the Council is both within its rights and duties under the City charter, and in line with the views of the Democratic chairperson, if they disapprove the Taylor termination.

In a sense, Chairman Green has made it easier for the Council to muster the courage necessary to do the right thing if the mayor fails to take back Taylor's dismissal.

In this regard, Chairman Green and the Council -- New Dem and Regular Dem -- are on the same page: Plainfield needs seasoned, competent management at the helm as we move forward into yet another difficult year for the city fiscally and Taylor has certainly shown she can provide that management.



CITY COUNCIL BUSINESS MEETING
Monday | December 20
8:00 PM
Courtroom/Council Chambers
Watchung Avenue & East 4th Street

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: December 19 home ID


Hedgerow at the edge of the lane.

Plainfield Today readers ARE well-traveled in the Queen City, but I have to admit yesterday's home (see here) was really off the beaten path...and at the end of the...Terrace.

Loretta Terrace, in Brisbane Estates, to be exact; that short street that runs parallel to Terrill Road and is accessed from same by way of Maxon Place, a short street with no homes facing it.

Where Loretta dead ends in some trees, there is a private lane by a hedgerow that leads back to the property, entirely surrounded by woods.



The home is on the lane at the end of Loretta Terrace.
Since the house appears older than Brisbane Estates or Whitewood Court, the cul-de-sac off Terrill Road which also abuts the property, I wonder how the owners of this landlocked home used to get access to the wider world. Was there a private drive that went out to  Terrill Road back in the day?

Next Sunday is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.

Is there a home in Plainfield that conjures that popular (though not in the U.S.) holiday?

Check back next week.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Children caught in crossfire by masked gunmen

 

Gunplay continues in Plainfield even as the Christmas holiday approaches. Am told that three masked gunmen ran into a hallway at one of the Elmwood Gardens buildings on West Second Street over the weekend and began firing shots.

Children and female teenagers were caught in the crossfire in the hallway.

Miraculously, no one was hurt.

And there are those who think Elmwood Gardens shouldn't be replaced with safer housing?


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jerry changes time of Dem City Committee meeting. What's up?


Plainfield Democratic City Committee members received telephone calls Sunday that Assemblyman Jerry Green, the committee's chairperson, was changing the time of the meeting to 6:30 PM (from 7:00 PM) on Monday evening at the Heard One Complex.

What's up with that?

Having told everyone the meeting would be short, is Jerry contemplating letting the committee engage in a little small-d democratic back-and-forth over the three names to be submitted to the Council once Linda Carter's seat is vacant?

That would be refreshing.

Hopefully, it is not to leave time for a discussion of Mayor Robinson-Briggs' latest escapade.

That would be inappropriate; the mayor should explain herself to the Council and the public at the Council meeting.




PLAINFIELD DEMOCRATIC CITY COMMITTEE
Monday | December 20
Time changed to 6:30 7:00 PM
Heard One Complex
210 Church Street
(across from Union County College)

CITY COUNCIL BUSINESS MEETING
Monday | December 20
8:00 PM
Courtroom/Council Chambers
Watchung Avenue & East 4th Street



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: Really hidden in Plainfield


Truly hidden in Plainfield, but hidden where?

Plainfield Today readers are just too well-traveled in the Queen City.

Today, I fled to a REALLY hidden home, in one of Plainfield's relatively hidden neighborhoods.

Though it is at the end of a lane, it seems much more peaceful and inviting than the house featured in Jodie Foster's truly dreadful 1976 flick, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (see here).

Living in New York at the time, we went to see the movie at the famed Quad Cinema on 13th Street, where the audience booed the goofs in the plot and finally began supplying alternative dialog back to the screen.

A Plainfield home would never suffer such indignity.

Do you know where this home is?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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