The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PMUA: Something's up, but what?

Two members of the Council's PMUA Task Force, myself and a consultant with an unpaid bill constituted 'the public' at the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's special board meeting at 9:00 AM Tuesday morning.

My interest was piqued because of the hour (9 AM on a workday?) and the language of the call ('discussion regarding labor and employment issues involving organizational structure and staffing requirements of the Authority').

Duane Young, the PMUA's new executive director had said in his remarks at the August 9 board meeting that he was conducting a 'top to bottom review' of the agency's staffing with an eye to possible improvements in efficiency and delivery of services.

At the time I wondered if a reorganization was potentially in the works. Tuesday's meeting offered a chance to find out if that were the case, though I fully expected the meeting to go into executive session for the discussion.

So it was something of a surprise when the Authority's counsel, Leslie London, advised the Commissioners that two items on the proposed agenda needed to be discussed in open meeting as they did not meet the statutory requirements for executive session --

  1. Compliance with and enforcement of the Personnel Manual; and

  2. Communications Protocols for the Executive Director
Evidently alluding to discontent with changes being contemplated for the agency, Young brought up possible direct complaints to Commissioners by employees, advising that such communications were not proper and should be discouraged. Further, he said that he would be following the HR (Human Resources) Manual 'to the T...there will be no deviations'.

Commissioner Brokaw asked if this meant the Manual hasn't been followed in the past.

Ms. London advised that there are appeals mechanisms [in the HR Manual] in case of disagreements with policies.

Mr. Young reiterated that 'people are going to try to get your ears'.

All of which indicates, to my mind, that changes at the PMUA are on the way.

As for the second item, protocols for Mr. Young's interaction with elected officials and others, it seemed to be an effort to set agreed upon ground rules for the Executive Director's communications as the agency's 'public face'.

I had been startled at the August meeting at the openness with which Mr. Young expressed his willingness to meet with the Council and the Council's PMUA Task Force, and his acknowledgement that he had had a conversation with Councilors Mapp and Storch. This would have been unthinkable under the previous leadership team, and many in the community took it as a good sign.

Further, Young stopped in the hallway after he had spoken to the Council
at the recent Council business meeting and was leaving the building, as a handful of PMUA Task Force representatives approached him with questions. Again, this would have been unthinkable under the previous agency leadership.

Young said he wanted direction from the Commissioners as he 'didn't want to overstep [his] bounds', adding 'there should be a policy and it should come from you'.

Commissioner Toliver suggested that the Chairperson should accompany Young on such occasions, but Commissioner Brokaw took exception, suggesting it was a matter of deciding if the matter or meeting concerned operations or policy.

'You run the operation', Brokaw said, 'it's not a policy issue. Who speaks to who needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis. You handle operations, policy matters should be directed to the Board'.

Young offered that when in doubt he would bring the matter to the Chairperson, to which Brokaw replied, 'you may have to speak to Counsel also'.

In concluding the discussion, Ms. London pointedly reminded the Commissioners that THREE MEMBERS communicating, whether by email or phone, constituted a quorum and would be a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (the 'Sunshine' Law).

At this point, Chairperson Mitchell entertained a motion to go into Executive Session and the public was excluded from the remainder of the meeting -- only after Ms. London read the resolution which a) detailed the substance of the matter to be discussed, and b) announced that the minutes of the session would eventually be made public.

As I have said before, the PMUA leads Plainfield's other public bodies -- the City Council and the Board of Ed -- in getting the spirit and letter of the Sunshine Law (including recent rulings on email communications) RIGHT.

For that, I consider the credit in the first place goes to the agency's counsel, Ms. London -- who is a class act, always prepared, thorough and professional -- but also to the new Executive Director and the Board of Commissioners.

It's a new day at the PMUA.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Howard Mitchell is an arrogant, pompous and not so bright commissioner. He continually exhibits his disdain for the people who pay the "Paultry fee (Mr. Toliver's words) to him. (As an aside to Mr. Toliver, there are many people who would gladly take a couple of grand a year for less than 20 hours of work). He appears to think that we minions cannot understand the rulings of the great council, which hasn't done a positive thing for Plainfield in years. I understand Mr. Mitchell was also once mayor of Plainfield.

Explains alot, Plainfield and PMUA both feel they have no accountability to the people, and that the people running it feel like they are the brain trust (HAH!!!). Now it all makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Everyone seems to forget that the PMUA was to pick up the garbage not have a legal show.

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Anonymous said...

Dan,

Who are the members of the Task Force? Just wondering....

Dan said...

To the commenter who asked who is on the Council's PMUA Task Force: The list is available in the Clerk's office (it will not be put on the City's website as it is only a temporary task force).

Here is a list of the members --

Liz D'Aversa (Ward 1)
Thomas Crownover, Esq. (Ward 2)
Marion Clemons (Ward 4)
Nan Anderson-Bennett (Ward 4)
Wilbert Gill (Ward 3)
Ann Mosley (Ward 3)
Joe Ruffin (Ward 3)

Ruffin chairs the group.

Anonymous said...

sThanks for the information Dan.