Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

At Council, Administration withdraws 1, amends 1, rejects 3

City Hall cupola, restored in 2001,
is now a source of water infiltration into building.

That there is no such thing as a cut-and-dried Plainfield City Council meeting was reaffirmed Tuesday evening with a few unexpected twists introduced by the Robinson-Briggs administration.

Word in the street on Monday was that Union County Prosecutor Ted Romankow was making an appearance at Tuesday's Council meeting. Sure enough, there he was with two staffers when I arrived just before 8 PM. Mayor Robinson-Briggs was also in attendance (her presence has been infrequent over the past few months).

At the break for an executive session (thanks to Bernice's forewarning, most attendees had brought along reading matter), the Council, the Mayor, the Prosecutor, the Clerk and the Department heads all tramped upstairs, leaving attendees the Council chambers.

The call for the closed session noted items to be discussed included: personnel, the Public Safety Director and City Administrator positions, and a public safety plan. The session ran about 20 minutes over the originally-estimated '45 minutes', and when Council reconvened it was without either  Mayor Robinson-Briggs or Prosecutor Romankow and his staffers.

The agenda then proceeded relatively smoothly with the introduction of the SID budget, and the introduction and amendment of the Transitional Budget for the city. Extra funding was passed for the Council's special attorney along the previous 4/3 lines.

There was a Keystone Kops moment with the adoption of Ordinance 2011-09, setting certain no parking restrictions. The question being whether Councilor Mapp's addition of a block on West 8th Street had been properly added to the ordinance's title and properly advertised. Or would it have to be re-advertised? Or would the ordinance have to be withdrawn and started all over again? Or was it really OK to go ahead? When the smoke cleared, Council went ahead.

Acting City Administrator Kochel added the Administration's special twists --


The 2005 Front Street streetscape project
was planned to include conduit for fiber optic cables.

Resolution 353-11 authorizing a right-of-way agreement with Cross River Fiber LLC for installation of fiber optic cables to existing utility poles or conduits was withdrawn pending negotiations over some revenue for the City.

I had asked Mr. Kochel at the agenda-setting session if there was revenue in the equation and he said the utility poles were not owned by the city (Councilor Mapp, it turns out, had the same question). But, I said, at least some of the conduit -- if not all -- was owned by the City; specifically along North Avenue as a result of the North Avenue drainage proejct of a few years ago, and the Central Business District, which had included laying conduit under the new sidewalks in anticipation of exactly this sort of event. He was surprised that we owned conduits (shouldn't DPW&UD have advised him of same beforehand?).

Thorough and professional man that he is, Kochel is now seeing to the prospects of some revenue for the City.

Resolution 356-11 had called for an award of $119,000 to H2M Associates for engineering and architectural services having to do with water infiltration from the cupola atop City Hall.

Mr. Kochel told the Council that he had thought the original figure high and had informally sought quotes from the City's list of qualified vendors. Hatch Mott McDonald quoted a price of $57,100 on the project. Councilor Greaves objected that the quality of the work might suffer. Councilor Mapp grilled Mr. Kochel in detail over the qualifications of Hatch Mott McDonald and whether they were bidding on the exact specs previously sought. The answers to all of Mapp's questions being in the positive, the resolution as amended was adopted, with a savings to the city of about $62,000. Councilor Storch noted that this was the sort of savings that the proposed public bidding ordinance could achieve for the City.

The only question in my mind is why the City appears not to have made an inquiry of the firm that did the restoration work on the cupola several years ago. Might they have had material information of benefit to the city? Might they have had some responsibility for the ensuing water problem? Might they have undertaken to correct the problem at no cost to the city? Or are the issues completely separate? Enquiring minds would have liked to know.

Lastly, three new resolutions added after the agenda-setting session last week (numbers 359-11, 360-11 and 361-11) from the Division of Information Technology for media services, photography services and videography services, were rejected by the Administration.

Kochel said that upon review he thought that the prices were 'above acceptable costs', suggesting that some informal arrangements might be made for the balance of the transitional budget period, with the services to be hammered out in the new 2012 calendar-year budget.
The special Council meeting on October 19 for the continuation of the WBLS inquiry and other matters might be the last that residents will see of Mr. Kochel in his official capacity. His contract as Acting City Administrator runs out in early November and he is not eligible for an extension. I would like to salute him for his professional conduct, his attention to detail, and his responsiveness to the concerns of Council and residents alike.

How different might these last six years have been with this sort of dedicated, skilled and straight-shooting civil servant.

Thank you, Dave Kochel, and good luck wherever else your skills take you!

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bob said...

It's good to see that the city can save some money, but it was not good to see the mayor's posse, the three stooges, not voting to finally get to the bottom of this BLS mess. If the mayor needs to circle the wagons, then she is aware of her culpability in this. Let's hope it ends her political career before she can do damage to more people. I'm surprosed someone hasn't thrown a shoe at her yet.

Pat Turner Kavanaugh said...

Dan: while a special council meeting on 19 Oct. is important, I do wish it hadn't been scheduled long after the LWV announced its municipal and county candidates forum at the Public Library. That starts at 6:30 so maybe some interested folks will attend for a while at least.

Anonymous said...

The cost saving for engineering and architectural services to remediate the water leak in the cupola is commendable. But $62k is $62k and I think if they had just called in experienced roofers to eyeball the problem and submit bids, they could have avoided the expense entirely. Once one knows water seeps through openings and runs downhill, experienced roofers can find a solution.

P.S. I wonder if the city even knows what warranties it got from the firm that did the restoration in 2001.