The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Strange sidelights from Council's agenda-setting session

Statute provides for compensating Ward Commissioners for redrawing boundaries after each Census.
Two blocks on West 7th Street were moved from Ward 1 to Ward 3 this time around.
With 35 resolutions (plus a couple added by Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson), several discussion/action items and four new ordinances, the Plainfield City Council' agenda-setting session on Monday was bound to kick up a couple of odd items. And it did.


The Board of Ward Commissioners, a statutory body which functions after every decennial Census to adjust the ward boundaries of communities using wards for election purposes so as to comply with the Supreme Court's 'one man, one vote' ruling, also gets compensated for their labors.

The BWC is composed of the four members of the Union County Board of Elections (2 Dems and 2 Republicans) plus the municipal clerk of the community being adjusted.

According to Clerk 'AJ' Jallon, state law provides for compensation in the amount of $350 per commissioner for their labors. This all sounds quite reasonable, even if Plainfield's preparatory work was done by our engineers (Remington and Vernick), and the entire Plainfield review and decision took less than ten minutes (see my report on the Board's re-warding of Plainfield here).

But then I got to thinking: How many towns? Plainfield was one of TEN MUNICIPALITIES in Union County that used wards for election purposes. That means that the compensation was a nice take-home for the members of the county Board of Elections who sat on all ten hearings: 10 x $350 = $3,500. Not bad, eh? Ahhhh, the rewards of public service!

Her Honor, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, submitted two nominations to the PMUA (Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority), former 3rd Ward Councilor Malcolm R. Dunn and his long-time business associate, Cecil Sanders.

Resident Alan Goldstein expressed concerns about Dunn's appointment, citing the PMUA as a 'hotbed of corruption' (the correct quote is 'hotbed of pay-to-play abuse' -- apologies to Mr. Goldstein -- DD) and noting Dunn's connections to The Incubator, which is run by his son Jeff, and an allegedly illegal job training contract awarded by the Robinson-Briggs administration to The Incubator. (This project is rumored to be one of the subjects of FBI inquiries made earlier this year, see my post here.)

Longtime observers of the Plainfield scene no doubt find it interesting that the two are being nominated together for the PMUA seats. Council President McWilliams put consideration of the nominations off until next week since the Council was given no opportunity to interview the candidates before giving their advice and consent. (There was an undercurrent of annoyance at the Robinson-Briggs administration for not having gotten the agenda backup materials to the Clerk's office in a timely fashion.)

We will have to see what the Council does with regard to these nominations.

There were actually TWO RESOLUTIONS involved here --

  • one to rescind various resolutions the Council had passed at the behest of the Robinson-Briggs administration earlier in the year in an attempt to get UEZ monies set aside to establish a locally-managed economic development fund; and
  • another to authorize the creation by the City of an 'Economic Development and Enterprise Trust Fund' (without backup materials, it was not clear where the funds would come from or how they would be managed and distributed)
Setting up such a fund made great sense ten years ago, when I was part of a delegation from Plainfield that visited Vineland to inquire about THEIR fund, which was built up by the repayment of loans made through the UEZ (and at that time amounted to around $50 million, to be used as a revolving loan fund for economic development projects).

Plainfield has had trouble getting its act together in this regard. Recommendations from the Vineland trip were never followed up on after pushback from local power players.

This followed the rather scandalous dissipation of the settlement Plainfield got for the 'sale' of the Plainfield Joint Meeting to form PARSA (the Plainfield Area Sewerage Authority) -- see PARSA's deftly uninformative 'history' on its website here. While the asset was valued at $36 million, Plainfield finally officials settled for a mere $9 million, which was supposed to be used to establish an ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TRUST FUND. On a parallel track, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority was established.

Sadly, establishment of Trust Fund never happened, as the City Council used the monies up in two successive years in the late 1990s to plug budget deficits -- all along promising vociferously that the money would be repaid and the fund established.

Among the members of the Council voting on the measure to use the sewer settlement to plug the budget gap (and promising to replace it) were Malcolm Dunn, Ward 3 Councilor at the time and now the PMUA nominee; and Harold Mitchell, Ward 4 Councilor back then and currently the chair of the PMUA's Board of Commissioners.
Small world, isn't it.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Dan, Old age sometimes causes CRS. Please do tell us who else was in power when the Economic Trust Fund was raided (Mayor and council members).

Anonymous said...

Who was mayor during that time you mention--the 1990s? And who was on the Council?

Anonymous said...

During Malcolm Dunn's final stint as a council member he gave a speech actually more of a rant about how Plainfielder's ought to hire more black contractors to do work on homes buisness' and the like. However during that time he was having his master bathroom renovated in his home on central avenue. Out of the 14 different people who laid hands on his project how many do you suppose were black? One. A single black person worked on his own project. It was his nephew. He did some of the demolition. Everyone else was white. The carpenters, the drywallers, the tile setters, the shower door setters, the plumber and painters. All white. I wonder why if he was so strongly promoting black business then why wouldn't he use black owned business' himself?