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Friday, September 30, 2011

Citizens Campaign to present model ordinances to Council Monday

Masthead from group's website.
Plainfield's City Council will hear presentations from the good-government group Citizens Campaign at its agenda-setting session on Monday evening.

Heather Taylor, the group's spokesperson, will present four model ordinances the group is promoting to governing bodies throughout the state.

Campaign may be familiar to Plainfield Today readers for two reasons: the group's proposed 'Civic Responsibility Act' was the model for the Plainfield ordinance advocated by the late Councilor Ray Blanco and which was adopted in 2005 (though the online portion was only recently put up by City Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh, see here), and for the citizen involvement workshops conducted over the years for community members.

Here are the proposals to be discussed at Monday's Council meeting --

1)  Model Ordinance for Best Price Insurance Purchasing -- Requires municipalities to seek competitive proposals for insurance coverage and hiring brokers. And it requires the municipality to hire the broker on a flat fee. Currently towns are not required to use a competitive process for obtaining insurance, and brokers are paid a commission by the insurance company. By hiring the broker directly, the municipality will eliminate any conflict of interest the broker may have and guarantee the broker is seeking the best coverage for the town.

2) Model Ordinance for Competitive Negotiations for Professional Services -- Currently towns have two options for hiring professionals, the "fair and open" process or the "non fair and open" process, under both systems the city has broad discretion in selecting its professionals. The ordinance would require the municipality to obtain detailed proposal from professionals competitively, giving the city the ability to compare firm's services and rates and to expand the pool of potential firms. For more information about why the fair and open process is ineffective, read the State Comptroller's report:

3) Model Pay to Play Reform Ordinance - Currently cities only have to use the fair and open or non-fair and open process for awarding government contracts, neither one effectively severs the link between campaign contributions and government contracts. The model ordinance will limit campaign contributions to candidates, parties, and PACs by business entities seeking government contracts.

4) Model Developer Disclosure Ordinance - Requires developers  to disclose their political contributions when applying for a major variance.
You can learn more about Citizens Campaign and other initiatives they are promoting by visiting their website (here) or their Facebook page (here).

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Changes coming to PLAINFIELD TODAY and CLIPS formats


Pressure is on from Blogger to 'update' blog appearances.
Blogger, the Google-owned service which hosts both PLAINFIELD TODAY and CLIPS sent out a notice in recent days encouraging bloggers using older templates (such as moi) to upgrade to their new souped-up and whizbang templates. You can read about the new 'dynamic views' templates and view samples here.

Templates are the 'bones' on which the blog is fleshed out, giving its look and feel -- columns and their arrangement, fonts, image characteristics, etc.

My templates are very old indeed, at least five years, which makes them antediluvian in Internet terms.

Supposedly, the new styles will allow both blog creators and blog readers choices in how to produce and 'consume' blog posts.

I will be twiddling over the weekend and the next few days to find a format that will be suitable going forward -- and will be looking for your feedback once the old Ark gets amoverin'.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Annual FOSH Blessing of Animals set for Sunday

Pets and their friends gather for the annual FOSH Blessing Of The Animals.
Animal lovers and pet owners and their friends will gather Sunday, as they have for nearly twenty years, for the annual Blessing of Animals at Leland Park.

Friends of Sleepy Hollow,
a local all-volunteer civic group, has held what was initially called a Blessing of Animals for almost twenty years on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (whose feast day is October 4).

Those offering blessings this year are the Rev. Carolyn Eklund, rector of Grace Episcopal Church; Rev. Frank Rose, pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Stanislaus Kostka Church; Ellie Campolei, who provides a Native American perspective; and Dr. Jim Handlin, a Buddhist.

Mary Ellen Chanda, who heads the FOSH Animal Initiatives Committee, has organized the event and will give opening remarks. The event is free and open to the public, although contributions to FOSH's effort to help animals are accepted.  There is no rain date.

Leland Avenue Park is next to the Cook School Pond, adjacent to Cook Elementary School.

Further information is available on the FOSH website,

A 2010 participant.

Annual FOSH Blessing Of The Animals

1:30 PM
Sunday, October 2
(No rain date)

Leland Avenue Park
Leland Avenue, adjacent to the Cook Elementary School

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Community Appreciation & Youth Fun Day rescheduled to THIS Saturday

Rescheduled to Saturday because of last week's bad weather.

Plainfield 4th Ward Councilor Bridget Rivers has rescheduled the Community Appreciation & Youth Fun Day for THIS Saturday. The event was cancelled last weekend owing to inclement weather.

Baseball games will take place at Milt Campbell Field, and the afternoon cookout and family activities will be at Hannah Atkins Playground.

Flyer Community Appreciation Day Rescheduled

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    Will Michelson's blog post end his campaign for Ward 2 seat?

    Michelson's blog post brings to mind a famous scene.
    If it had a hook, my phone would have been ringing off it yesterday as folks read GOP Ward 2 candidate Bill Michelson's blog post of September 25 (see here) entitled 'Why I'm Running for City Council'.

    It might as well have been titled 'How NOT to Win Friends and Influence People', judging from the comments I received, starting with its opening paragraph --

    I know what many people think.  I must be crazy to want to serve the people of Plainfield’s 2nd Ward, a fractious bunch in the best of times.  I must be crazy to think anyone, even in the 2nd Ward, would vote for a Republican.  And I must be crazy to think I can actually make a change for the better, since the Council would still consist of 6 Black Democrats, and only 1 of me... [Note: Michelson removed the word 'Black' at some point during the day, without comment or apology. -- Dan]
    I doubt there is a Black resident of the 2nd Ward who would consider voting for Michelson after reading those words -- and I'm including Black Republicans, who ought to be embarrassed that a fellow Republican is so retrograde and insensitive.

    And that's just for openers. Michelson then goes on to bash the electorate in general, portraying the source of all Plainfield's problems as having Democrats in office, and he is condescending to his opponent, incumbent Cory Storch.

    I'm disappointed.

    I expected Michelson would campaign on issues, but instead -- besides setting himself up as The White Man versus the Black Democrats -- he suggests that he should be elected because he is an iconoclast (you may want to check the definition here), which calls to my mind a shouting, arm-waving demagogue rather than an even-tempered legislator intent on collaborating with his colleagues for the benefit of the community.

    As a programmatic initiative, he suggests 'we need to let our population fall by 20% over the next 20 years' in order to cut our budget by $10 million. Think that one through for a minute. What sense does that make? None, as far as I can see.

    Michelson and Storch will have opportunities to debate each other, I am sure, and I look forward to their exchanges.

    However, I can't help but think that Michelson has sabotaged his own campaign.

    It puts me in mind of the Wicked Witch of The West shrinking away -- crying 'Look what you've done! Look what you've done! I'm melting, melting...' -- after Dorothy throws a bucket of scrub water on her in the 1939 film classic Wizard of Oz (see a short clip on YouTube here)

    Except in this case, Michelson has thrown the water on himself.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Plainfield Symphony opens 92nd season Saturday

    Bartok's concerto is considered a fine example of 'verbunkos',
    a Hungarian dance style performed by both Magyars and Gypsies.
    Under the leadership of its dynamic new music director, Charles Prince, the Plainfield Symphony opens its 92nd season Saturday with an ambitious program featuring Bartok's 2nd Violin Concerto and Schumann's Symphony No. 4.

    Prince has led the orchestra to venture into new territory with great success, wowing audiences last year with both Mahler's First Symphony and the Verdi Requiem.

    Saturday's program continues to introduce technically challenging music to a Plainfield audience.

    The Bartok piece, composed in the shadow of Fascism's growing menace and the runup to World War II -- this in 1936 -- is considered a fine example of Verbunkos, an 18th century Hungarian dance style performed by both Magyars and Gypsies and associated with military settings.

    Robert Schumann was not only a prolific Romantic composer, he championed such different talents as Chopin and Brahms (whom he is said to have discovered). He also rescued Franz Schubert's Ninth Symphony, the 'Great', from a pile of discarded scores and arranged for its premiere under Felix Mendelssohn.

    The Fourth Symphony, in D minor, caused considerable stir over the years with respect to its orchestration. Premiered in 1841, it was reissued in 1851 in a substantially revised orchestration. Though Brahms preferred the earlier version, it was the latter that became standard in the repertoire as the 19th century progressed.

    Whichever version is preferred, Schumann is lauded for the way the four movements are completely integrated, which he indicated by his notation that it should be played through without pause.

    The 92nd season will also feature Beethoven's beloved 5th Symphony in an upcoming concert as well as an evening devoted to Mahler 'in song and symphony'.

    For Plainfield Today readers who may not be regular Symphony patrons, I would like to suggest you consider taking the PSO up on its new marketing effort -- the 'Forever Ticket'.

    Taking a page from the Post Office's playbook, the Symphony is offering a $30 non-reserved seating ticket that is good for any performance, any year. This is a great idea worth giving some thought to.

    Meanwhile, I'll be there Saturday evening, looking for you!

    Plainfield Symphony: Bartok and Schumann
    Opening the PSO's 92nd Season

    Music Director Charles Prince
    Evelyn Estava, Violin

    8:00 PM Concert
    Saturday, October 1

    Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church
    East 7th Street and Watchung Avenue
    (Parking in church lot, on street, or in Swain Galleries lot)

    Tickets: $45/Reserved, $25/General admission, $15/Seniors/Students, under 12 free
    Info: (908) 561-5140 or visit the PSO website

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Dan cuts AT&T loose, halves monthly bill

    Dan got the boost he needed at this downtown Plainfield store.
    Plainfield Today readers who feel abused by their big-dog cellphone plans, take heart!

    You can cut your bills by half or more without sacrificing the quality of your connection or your phone. Here's how I did it.


    I have paid AT&T $100.65 a month for the past 30 months for a plan with rollover minutes, texting and data. Let's say $3,000 and forget the change.

    Was it a ripoff?

    Well, consider that my new no-contract plan gives me 1,200 anytime minutes plus unlimited texting and data for $45/month (the 300-minutes plan is $35/month).

    My simplistic back-of-the-envelope calculation runs as follows --
    • The $400 list price LG phone that came with the AT&T plan was 'subsidized' by AT&T (I paid $200 for it). Having worked in wholesale in a previous life, I strongly suspect that the phone was a wash for AT&T, but let's be generous and suggest they put $100 skin into the game (meaning their cost would have been $300/unit).
    • If my current service can make a profit on $45/month, I will assume AT&T could, too. That would mean that in a little less than two months on AT&T I had amortized their phone investment of approximately $100.
    • Which means that for the next 27 months plus, AT&T collected over $2,700 from me for service that will now cost me $1,350.
    • The new phone cost me $300 out-of-pocket, $100 more than my old AT&T phone. If I use it for 30 months, that's $10/month. Or, if you consider I paid $200 for the old phone, I'm only $100 more into this one -- that's $3.33/month over the next 30 months. In my book, I'm still way ahead.
    So, why not switch services?

    It all started here..


    One of the traditional knocks on the no-contract services such as T-Mobile, Boost, MetroPCS and others is that they have catered to the lower end of the market and their phone selection has reflected that -- mostly cheap and with limited features sets.

    But no more.

    The New York Times ran a story in early August on the uptick of interest now that these carriers are adding the latest and greatest phones to their lineups (see article here).

    It presents a good overview of the kinds of plans and phones that are out there, and spurred my interest in getting off the dime.

    The only choices today are Apple's iPhone (which means, guess what, AT&T or Verizon) or phones running Google's Android software. I was surprised to learn that Android has half the market share for smartphones (with iPhones at 28%, something which the Apple buzz does not bring to the fore).

    So, what's the latest, hottest Android?

    You will find that each carrier has its own models and exclusive deals that means your phone decision is also automatically your carrier decision.

    In my case, I zeroed in on Motorola's Triumph running Android 2.2 (see here).

    The Triumph is slick, slender and spacious.

    Exercising my OCD proclivities, I checked out the online reviews. CNET, the all-things-tech website had a good review, with video (see here), plus links to reviews of the leading contenders against Motorola's hot new phone. The Android Community also had a lengthy review, with videos and plenty of photos (see here).

    By this time I was hooked, but where to check out a phone? I went to BestBuys on Route 22 in Union and they had the phone (one only). As usual, the place was busy, but the young sales rep (was he even 19?) didn't have answers to my couple of questions, so I decided on another tack.

    Checking Virgin Mobile's website, I found the 'store search' option at the top of the page and duly punched in '07060' as my ZIP code. Lo and behold, the first page returned 15 locations with that ZIP code, including SIX downtown Plainfield locations.

    Thinking to spend my dollars in Plainfield, I first went to a retailer who has been around for years. When the manager said 'Huh?', and then asked a clerk if the store carried the phone (Answer: No), I decided that was NOT the place to shop, at least for this purchase.

    So, I wandered down the street to the BOOST Mobile store at 105 East Front, next to Casanova Pizza.

    Here I found helpful and professional staff (manager Al and salesperson Vera) who answered my questions, let me look over the phone, and facilitated the purchase -- and the activation -- all via credit card.

    The BOOST store is a Virgin Mobile dealer, according to Al, which meant that they got first dibs on the hot new phone. He admitted being surprised at how popular it was, given the price point, but said they are flying off the shelves. Virgin Mobile uses Sprint's network, meaning you get state-of-the-art connections, including their 3G data network.

    The only difference is that I paid for ONE MONTH'S SERVICE IN ADVANCE, and can automatically pay each month via online management of my account. Change plans? Do it online. Cancel service? No problemo.

    While Vera at BOOST was able to port my old phone number over to Virgin Mobile, I managed some other items on my own.

    With mixed results.

    Case in point: Voicemails. Once your number is ported to the new service, your old phone is no longer connected to its network. Your voicemails? The several I had saved in order to extract info from at a later date were on AT&T's servers and no longer available to me. Lesson: Plan ahead.

    The Address Book presented a different kind of a challenge. My old phone had an option to save the file to the portable SD card. However, when I did so and inserted it in the Android phone to import the names and numbers, I was told it could not read the file. Which leaves me entering the contacts manually, a bunch every day.

    One other little surprise. Since I was not able to import my address book, I had ZERO contacts on the new phone. But the next morning, starting to enter a contact, I was amazed to discover that I had gone from zero to 2,200+ overnight. Whaaat?!

    Turns out that when I signed in to my Gmail account, the phone automatically imported my Gmail contacts -- which includes all the subscribers to the CLIPS email service.

    After calming down, I dug into the settings and found that I could have controlled the Gmail syncing situation before it happened. Who knew? The manual was silent. I would recommend exploring the phone thoroughly before committing to things like downloads and activating your Gmail (and perhaps Yahoo or other online email programs) account.
    I'm thrilled with the new phone, and have begun exploring the Android Market, where apps, music, games and more are available for download. So it only has 100,000 apps and the iPhone has 250,000? Do I really believe I'm missing something?

    And when I stopped in the BOOST store the other day with a question, Al the manager asked how I like the phone ('Love it'), took the phone and lined it up with his iPhone (the Triumph has a lot more screen real estate and is no heavier) and said he was sorely tempted to give up the iPhone for the Triumph.

    I'll be checking back with him later on that.

    PS: Should you check out the phone at the Plainfield BOOST store, tell 'em Dan sent you.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Monday, September 26, 2011

    Plainfield Weekend: Blackberry's.. new Children's Room.. Street Fair..

    Library Board President Anne Robinson, Freeholder Linda Carter and resident
    Martin Cox at the opening of the Plainfield Public Library's new Children's Library.
    A rainy weekend didn't mean nothing was happening in the Plainfield area. Here are some of the events I checked out, along with some photos.


    Though its was rainy and blustery outside for Blackberry's premiere party,
    inside the crowds were warm and dry and enjoying the show.
    Blackberry's restaurant's makeover was the season premiere of Gordon Ramsay's Fox TV show Kitchen Nightmares. The program debuted Friday at 8:00 PM, and was watched by an eager crowd that packed the restaurant for a $35/person buffet of Shelly and Mary Withers' specialties. Though the room was darkened (as you can see from my snaps), I was able to see many old friends, catching up during the long breaks from the program for commercials.

    You can watch the show whenever you wish on your computer (see the show's home page here), after it unlocks 8 days after the showing -- meaning this Saturday; and check out Blackberry's own website (here).

    Congratulations and best of luck to Plainfield's homegrown TV stars!

    As predicted, children (of all ages) thronged the public opening of the Plainfield Public Library's new Children's Library room on Saturday morning.

    Kids were literally crawling all over the new room -- checking out the computers, watching DVDs in the new media corner, curling up in the tent set aside for middle schoolers, reading books and assembling giant jigsaw puzzles on the floor.

    This is a wonderful addition to the Plainfield Public Library which, with upwards of 15,000 patrons, serves more Plainfield residents than any other agency, making it truly a gem in the crown of The Queen City. Check out the Library's services and happenings on its website (here).

    Congratulations to Director Joe Da Rold, Board President Anne Robinson and all the Board, staff and volunteers who worked so hard to make it a success.

    Bravo bravissimo!


    NJFOG volunteers worked the crowds at Dunellen's annual street fair.

    Flag suspended in air called attention to the Fair from a half mile away.
    Despite threatening skies earlier Sunday, NJFOG leaders and volunteers set up their tent at Dunellen's annual street fair and pitched the public on the tools available to make the conduct of public business by New Jersey's elected and appointed officials more open and transparent to residents and taxpayers.

    NJFOG, the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, of which I am a member, conducts workshops for those interested in honing their skills at exercising their rights to public records and open public meetings.

    It also takes cases representing egregious abuses to the courts, many times winning victories that put a stop to high-handed and secretive abuses.

    The group is ably led by attorney Walt Leuers and OPRA activist John Paff. Check out the group's website (here).
    On another front, the Plainfield YMCA was forced to reschedule its 'Send A Kid To Camp' motorcycle ride and show to Sunday, October 9 on account of the weather. Mark your calendars for this great event and check back for news as the date approaches!

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Hidden Plainfield: September 25 property ID


    The house is wedged between the forks of Sandford Avenue,
    up against the Green Brook.
    The little clue to yesterday's Hidden Plainfield property was in the title: it is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

    The house sits on a parcel of land where Sandford Avenue veers rightward from its original roadbed to pass over the newly-reconstructed bridge over the Green Brook. It is wedged between the Green Brook to its rear and the two forks of Sandford Avenue on either side.

    Shout out to Nancy Denny, the only reader who guessed its location -- she used to live just around the corner.

    Where shall we go next week?

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    Hidden Plainfield: All dressed up and nowhere to go

    The house has interesting Colonial Revival details.
    Today's title has something of a clue in it. This Hidden Plainfield property is basically a foursquare with elegant Colonial Revival details.

    The odd disjuncture between the upper story details and those of the first floor suggest to me that an original (wraparound?) porch is long gone. The current entry is obviously a later addition.

    Side view reveals more of the details.

    This home sits prominently in its neighborhood, even though it is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

    Do you know where this property is?

    Answer tomorrow.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Hidden Plainfield: 'Before' pic of Dump gets makeover

    'Before' picture, at top, is kinder than I remember the house looking.
    Architect (and Plainfield resident) Billy Toth sent along a 'before' picture of last week's Hidden Plainfield property on Oakland Avenue. His firm, BOL Architecture (see here), is the architect on the makeover. All I can say is that without the junkers in the frame it looks better than I remember it. Thanks, Billy!

    Also, don't miss today's entry: All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Saturday, September 24, 2011

    YMCA bike ride and show POSTPONED

    Bikes assemble for 2010 'Send A Kid To Camp' ride.
    NOTE: Weather concerns have led the organizers of the Motorcycle Ride and Bike Show to POSTPONE THE EVENT TO SUNDAY, OCTOBER 9. I will repost closer to the date.

    The Plainfield YMCA will hold its 2nd annual YMCA Send a Kid to Camp Ride and Bike Show on Sunday, Sept, 25.


    All motorcycles are welcome, and bikers will assemble on East 6th Street, between Watchung and Cleveland Avenues. This is adjacent to the YMCA at 518 Watchung Avenue, directly across from Plainfield City Hall.

    Registrations accepted morning of the ride, starting at 9:00 AM. Kickstands up at 10:00 AM. (The rain date is Sunday, October 9.)

    The cost is $20 per biker, passengers free. Registration can be made using a credit card, either in advance by telephoning the YMCA at (908) 756-6060, or the morning of the ride.

    This year’s scenic route will take riders through the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Morristown National Historical Park, before returning to the YMCA, and then on to a  bike show in Library Park.

    Library Park is across from the Plainfield Public Library, one block west of Park Avenue and 8th Street. The free Bike Show is scheduled for Noon to 3:00 PM. This is a family-friendly event with face painting and temporary tattoos for the kids, plus motorcycle stunt riders, music and food vendors.

    Featured will be the late Capt. Phil Harris’ Bike from the Discovery Channel “Deadliest Catch” TV series, a Titan Chopper.

    All bikes, any year, any model, are welcome to enter the bike show free. Admission to the show is also free.

    Ed Friedman, owner of Gut Wrenching Cycle on South Avenue in Fanwood, has arranged a men’s and women’s clothing boutique; sale of novelty clothing, pins, stickers, signs and trinkets; an event planning specialist; face painting and temporary tattoos for the kids; a psychic; a photographer with on-site printing;  and donations from a biker-inspired accessory company.

    In addition, Action Yamaha, Rizzon Suzuki Kawasaki Cycle,Sport Honda, and Liberty Harley will have displays.

    Gut Wrenching Cycle has also arranged to have a local troupe of stunt riders perform.

    Daytrips are among enrichment activities for youngsters
    participating in the Plainfield YMCA's summer daycamp experience.
    The Plainfield YMCA summer day program Camp Kitisena served an average of more than 130 youngsters each week, ages 3 to 17, over a period of 10 weeks this year. Youngsters came from Plainfield, South Plainfield, North Plainfield, Dunellen, Piscataway and Westfield.

    Joe Marciszyn, YMCA youth development director, said each participant spent 30 minutes a day reading, in an effort to halt or slow the decline in academic skills which often occurs during the summer.

    Each child also learned some basic Spanish, spent time in the Y’s computer lab, took swimming classes, studied nutrition and fitness, made field trips to such places as the Barclay’s Golf Tournament, Round Valley Reservoir and a Patriots baseball game, and spent as much time as possible outdoors at Skytop in the Watchung Reservation.

    Ravenell Williams, president and CEO of the Plainfield Y,said, 'It is the mission of the YMCA never to turn anyone away for inability to pay.' The organizers hope to raise $5,000 with the motorcycle ride and show.


      Registration - 9 AM
    Kickstands Up - 10 AM
    Free Bike Show - Noon - 3 PM
    (Rain date: October 9)

    Motorcycle Ride starts from East 6th Street and Watchung Avenue
    (alongside the YMCA)
    Free Bike Show is at Library Park
    (one block west of Park Avenue at 8th Street)

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Friday, September 23, 2011

    WBLS Inquiry: Is Investors Bank innocent, or not so?

    Circumstances around what Investors thought it was paying for need to be clarified.
    When the Plainfield City Council's special attorney, Ramon Rivera, brought out at Wednesday's meeting that Investors Savings Bank (ISB) officials had told him the bank's check for $15,000 was to help pay for fireworks for the city's 2010 July 4 celebration, the question immediately came to mind whether Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs had misled the bank, misappropriating the monies for a purpose other than that for which they were given.

    If ISB knew nothing of the WBLS broadcast, it would certainly indicate the possibility of a fraud having been committed.

    However, if Investors knew of the use to which Mayor Robinson-Briggs was putting the money...?

    Sharp-eyed reader SK alerted me yesterday to a press release by Investors Savings Bank of June 15, 2010, on the bank's helping underwrite fireworks presentations in several communities in its service area (embedded below, or see the bank's web page here, and the actual release here, PDF). Very generous support, except that nowhere is Plainfield mentioned.

    So the question arises why Investors would cut a check for the Plainfield fireworks, after the event had been held.

    Was it on the Mayor's say-so?

    Yet Bibi Taylor said that the fireworks display HAD ALREADY BEEN PAID FOR, out of another account.

    So, was the Mayor duping Investors?

    And then we have the circumstance, caught on the video run on the city's website, of Investors Savings Bank being acknowledged over WBLS as a sponsor of the Community Forum.

    As Alice said, 'i
    t all gets curiouser and cuiouser'.


    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Foreclosure Workshop: Why was turnout so low?

    Knowing the severity of the foreclosure problem in Plainfield, I went to the workshop for those facing foreclosure held at Shiloh Baptist Church Thursday evening.

    It was well organized, with a lot of agencies involved in helping those facing foreclosure in attendance.

    Tables in the entry foyer were well stocked with handouts on foreclosure assistance from the state's Division of Community Affairs, Union County's Foreclosure Task Force, and the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA).

    I loaded up on materials and went inside to listen to the presentations.
    But there were only thirty in the audience in a sanctuary that seats hundreds (and among those I spotted several Shiloh members who may have been there more as 'hosts' than as folks in need of foreclosure assistance).

    The program leaflet proclaimed the event was presented by the Union County Human Relations Commission and the Union County Foreclosure Task Force in conjunction with the NJ Public Defender's Office of Dispute Settlement and the Union County Superior Court Civil Division. Whew!

    There were six presentations from these agencies and others and opportunities for Q&A from the floor.

    But where were the folks who are in trouble with their mortgages?

    I didn't see any of the local service providers I would have expected, who are busy working on the ground in Plainfield with those in trouble with their mortgages.

    Where were they?

    After leaving the workshop, I called contacts at Faith Bricks and Mortar and the Latin American Coalition, asking why they hadn't been there.

    Both said they were not even aware an event was being held in Plainfield and that they had never been contacted -- despite the fact they are working on a daily basis with homeowners in difficulty with their mortgages.

    Later, organizing the materials I had picked up preparatory to writing this post, I found that five of the pieces of literature I had picked up were all from one agency -- Brand New Day, Inc., of Elizabeth.

    This is a non-profit founded in 1985 by Elizabethport Presbyterian Center and the community. Among other things, it offers services to homeowners with mortgage difficulties.

    Did the organizers purposely omit opportunities for Plainfield-based organizations to participate in the workshop? Was the whole exercise designed to steer prospects for assistance to just one nonprofit -- and an Elizabeth-based one at that?

    Despite the presenters being well-informed and earnest, I wondered if this isn't just an example of why the foreclosure assistance programs are constantly reported in the media as reaching too few to have any real effect on the crisis. And whether it gauges the effect being had in New Jersey, and Union County specifically, on the issue of foreclosures.

    Being held in a church led me to recall a New Testament story from the Gospel of John (21:1-19, see here, the third reading).

    It is a post-Easter story and tells how six of the disciples of Jesus went fishing overnight on the Sea of Tiberias, netting nothing. At daybreak, Jesus (whom they did not recognize) called out to them from the beach, telling them to let their nets down on the other side of the boat. Whereupon their nets were filled so full they could not pull them in.

    Could there be a lesson for the organizers here?

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    WBLS Inquiry: Is fraud the issue?

    Image of ISB check to City for $15,000 with explanatory memo.
    I am no lawyer, but to my mind the question shaping up in the Plainfield City Council's inquiry into the $20,000 payment to WBLS for broadcasting a town hall meeting is whether Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs defrauded Investors Savings Bank (ISB) or misappropriated the funds given by them to the City.

    Though Robinson-Briggs chose not to attend the City Council's special meeting Wednesday evening looking into the $20,000 WBLS payment, there is no doubt she was the metaphorical 'elephant in the room', and the question arose as to what Investors thought the check was for and the use to which Mayor Robinson-Briggs put it.

    But let's begin at the beginning.

    The meeting was called to order by Council President Annie McWilliams at 8:15 PM with Councilor Reid the only member not in attendance and promptly dispatched its only other item of business, a resolution granting permission for the Plainfield High School marching band to march in the street from the high school building to Hub Stine Field for home games. (Was the omission of the pledge to the flag an oversight or by design?)

    The Council then went into executive session with its special attorney, Ramon Rivera, and resumed the public meeting about fifteen minutes later.

    Rivera outlined the procedure for the evening, stating that the meeting was neither a hearing nor a trial, but was 'an interview' which he would conduct on behalf of the Council.

    He then outlined the circumstances of who had been served (or attempted to serve) subpoenas --

    • Bibi Taylor, former City Administrator
    • Dan Williamson, Corporation Counsel
    • Sandra Cummings, Acting CFO (at the time)
    • David Spaulding, Purchasing Agent
    • Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs
    Rivera reported that Mayor Robinson-Briggs evaded service at her office and the process server evidently had the wrong home address (this is worth a separate note, since Her Honor is widely known to have a home on Pemberton Avenue) but that her attorney agree to accept service and that she would appear at a future date. Cummings could not be served because of an incomplete address (the server did not have her apartment number), Spaulding was served and expected Wednesday, though he did not appear. Both Bibi Taylor and Dan Williamson were in attendance; Taylor agreed to be interviewed publicly and on the record; Williamson opted for meeting in executive session.

    A certified court stenographer, using 21st century methods,
    kept a record of the proceedings.

    Rivera then interviewed Ms. Taylor at length about the circumstances surrounding the Community Forum, when she became aware of it, and the Mayor's actions in getting a check cut late on Friday, July 30 for the August 1 event.

    Ms. Taylor carefully outlined the sequence of events from when she first learned of the community forum (at a July 21st cabinet meeting) to the Mayor's frantic and curse-filled efforts on Friday July 30th to get a check cut.

    Highlights included --

    • Mayor Robinson-Briggs making a call to Union County Prosecutor Romankow seeking funds (none were forthcoming);
    • Confusion over how many checks were needed (two were initially proposed), the amounts of each ($16,000 and $4,000), what they were for and the payees (WBLS and WLIB);
    • Audit & Control staff searching for available funds;
    • Purchasing agent Spaulding failing to return Taylor's calls seeking information;
    • Instructions by Mayor Robinson-Briggs to Taylor in a 1:47 PM call on July 30 to use cell phones only, not city lines (because conversations would be retrievable?);
    • A 'carnival of errors' scenario in identifying available unencumbered funds -- finally zeroing in on the Information Technology budget;
    • Mayor Robinson-Briggs' initial refusal to sign Taylor's memo documenting the situation (calling it a 'CYA' -- cover your ass -- memo).
    Mr. Rivera also asked Taylor to explain the possible scenarios under which a payment could be processed, the proper procedure in requesting and making a payment and all the accompanying paper trail, as well as whether the Council need have played a role if funds were being transferred from one account to another (Taylor said 'yes', though Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson publicly defended the shift at a Council meeting).

    To me, the most dramatic moments were when Mr. Rivera showed Ms. Taylor several documents, asking her to identify what sort they were, who signed them and their place in the whole matter -- including a purchase order signed by IT Director Chris Payne and Mayor Robinson-Briggs.

    Rivera also produced a copy of a check from
    Investors Savings Bank, dated July 30, in the amount of $15,000 and payable to the City of Plainfield, Division of Parks & Recreation, with a memo of 'Plainfield Rec/Br 06 7/4 Sponsorship'.

    Rivera said that he had spoken with a representative of
    Investors Savings Bank Wednesday afternoon, who confirmed that the check was for fireworks for the July 4th celebrations.

    And that, it seems to me, is where everything now gets interesting.

    Did Investors know Mayor Robinson-Briggs would apply the money to the WBLS event or not?

    If not, did Mayor Robinson-Briggs misappropriate the funds or defraud ISB?

    I think it certain that Mayor Robinson-Briggs and any others who are interviewed by Mr. Rivera will want to do so in executive session.

    So, we must trust Rivera will get to the bottom of everything the Council needs to know and that the Council will evaluate any further steps that may need to be taken carefully and with an eye to the greater public good.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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