The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Despite Mayor's last-minute effort to derail, anti-corruption measures pass


City Council tackles the corrupting influence of campaign cash.
Despite a last-minute effort by Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs to derail one measure, the City Council passed the package of four anti-corruption measures on second reading at last night's special council meeting.

The special meeting was called after Council members' calculations that the possibility of having to override a mayoral veto left little time to both pass the ordinances and meet within the calendar year to override a possible veto. Unpassed ordinances expire at the end of the calendar year as the Council sworn in in January constitutes a new body (even if there are no changes in those at the table).

Getting off to a late start at 7:35 PM though slated for 7 o'clock (what's new?), Council President Annie McWilliams outlined the items to be taken up and then moved to public comment
, at which time resident Alan Goldstein came to the table and voiced several  concerns, including that the proposed ordinances did not go far enough, did not specifically include such agencies as the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, and did not cover state and national candidates as well as local ones. McWilliams deferred answering Goldstein's questions until the ordinances came to the table, saying there would be expert input from the representative of Citizen Action, which drafted the ordinances.

City Council then first passed a resolution allowing for the transfer of funds between accounts in order to hire former Acting City Administrator Dave Kochel's firm to consult for the City and to make more funds available to the Mayor's office for an additional staffer.

Before its unanimous passage, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson shared with the Council and the public that Mayor Robinson-Briggs had agreed to make Mr. Kochel available to the Council for help in 3- to 5-year budget planning as they had requested.

Heather Taylor of Citizen Action came to the table to offer brief overviews of each of the four ordinances and answer questions raise by Goldstein and the Council members (for a brief overview of the ordinances, see my post yesterday here; full texts of the ordinances are available at the City Clerk's office).

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson advised that Mayor Robinson-Briggs wanted the Council to table the pay-to-play ordinance (2011-11) so that it could be redrawn to limit the contributions that RESIDENTS may make in order to 'make sure transparency is the hallmark' (Williamson's words).

Council President Annie McWilliams took exception to Mayor Robinson-Briggs' attempt to derail the ordinance, saying she was 'offended' that it would even be suggested.

This kicked off considerable discussion in which Councilor Bridget Rivers appeared to suggest that Councilor Storch (whom she incorrectly referred to as the ordinances' 'author' -- he was their sponsor) should have engaged in secret negotiations with Mayor Robinson-Briggs over the pay-to-play ordinance. When Storch pushed back, saying that the Council's business should take place in public, Rivers then switched her tack, demanding of
Corporation Counsel Williamson 'why we're just hearing from the Mayor'?

When Council President McWilliams was finally able to get things moving, the four ordinances were dispatched relatively quickly.

Ordinances 2011-10 (concerning Professional Services contracts), 2011-12 (Developer contribution disclosures), and 2011-13 (purchasing Insurance services) all passed unanimously.

The pay-to-play ordinance, 2011-11, which Mayor Robinson-Briggs had wanted tabled, was another matter.

During the public hearing on the ordinance, Goldstein once again brought up the PMUA, saying it was 'a hotbed of
corruption' (the correct quote is 'hotbed of pay-to-play abuse' -- apologies to Mr. Goldstein -- DD) and should be included by name, to which Williamson responded it was an independent authority governed separately by state law.

When the vote was finally called, Councilors Vera Greaves and Bridget Rivers voted against the measure with Reid, Storch, Williams, Mapp and McWilliams in favor.

The measures now go to Mayor Robinson-Briggs who has ten days to approve (or veto) any of the ordinances. If there is a mayoral veto, the Council has time during its December meetings to take them up in an override vote.

ASIDE: A handful of members of the local POP (Peoples Organization for Progress) under the leadership of Steven Hatcher rallied in front of City Hall at 5:00 PM under the banner 'Enough Is Enough'. While the group said that the Council is failing to work with the Mayor (specifically on the WBLS matter), I pointed out to Hatcher in a voicemail that a careful review of the facts in that case would show things quite the other way around. Mayor Robinson-Briggs' attempt to derail one of Monday's ordinances just hours later is only another example of her modus operandi. But the POP group is certainly right about one thing: Enough is enough.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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5 comments:

Bob said...

I hope POP isn't a front group for Robinson-Briggs. If that are then POP stands for Pimp Our Politicians. She is not stupid, except where she believes the public doesn't see her shadiness. I'm also tired of Vera being her lap dog and being led around by Sharon. I guess Sharon has learned well from her mentor.

Rob said...

Mmmm...The very people demanding and wanting change unwilling to actually do anything to make it possible..Kind of sounds like the most recent election doesn't it?

Alan Goldstein said...

No, I did not ask that PMUA be included in the ordinance by name.

I asked if the terms 'the city, its departments, and subdivisions' and 'the city and its instrumentalities' included the PMUA, in the meaning of the legislation and in the mind of the Council.

I asked this because the PMUA's bond prospectus tells potential investors that the Authority is a 'component unit of the City of Plainfield' because the City is obligated to make up for any deficit, and is the ultimate guarantor of its debt.

That at least 'instrumentalities' doesn't cover PMUA, should make us wonder whether the intent is to leave PMUA as unaccountable as possible.

After all, PMUA commissioners are appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council, and we know that PMUA's attorneys, auditors, and engineers are regular contributors to the political campaigns 'that matter', and that the money flows downhill to support local races, and even finance slates of school board candidates.

Who is accountable around here? Where is the oversight? The nominations for PMUA commissioners make you wonder.

The buck is being passed around faster and faster. Catch it if you can.

Alan Goldstein said...

Also, Dan, I think Bernice got the quote right about "hotbed of pay-to-play abuse". I'll leave the idea of corruption for others to judge. We can always go to the video and I am willing to stand corrected if proven to be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Oh Please. Save your rhetoric for someone else!

Anti-corruption? Ha! Hardly. The New Democrats took money from developers and vendors every chance they got.

Will this change anything in Plainfield? NOT! Just more smelly, flea-ridden bull.