The needler in the haystack.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year for Plainfield?


We bid farewell to the old year tonight, but will 2012 be a New Year for Plainfield?

As a new Council reorganizes the corporation's affairs on Tuesday evening, we can only hope so.

As the City begins its new CALENDAR YEAR budget process, we can only hope the Robinson-Briggs administration will deliver its 2012 budget proposal in a more timely fashion than in the previous six years.

With a new City Administrator and a new Director of Public Works and Urban Development, we can only hope that these experienced administrators will be empowered by Mayor Robinson-Briggs to move the City forward in an intelligent and proactive way.

With Plainfield's relocation into a new Congressional district, will our new Representative move to include Plainfield's needs and concerns into his legislative agenda in Washington? We can only hope.

As we move into a New Year, hope is the only attitude that will truly carry us forward.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Will Robinson-Briggs fire Corporation Counsel Williamson?


Reminiscent of the Red Queen in 'Alice in Wonderland'?
A trip to Plainfield's City Hall is always accompanied by a little rush as one gets plugged into the latest gossip and rumors involving goings-on behind the closed doors of the Mayoral West Wing.

Wednesday, it had to do with Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson.

Seems that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was highly annoyed that the report of the Council's Special Counsel Rivera on the WBLS funding investigation revealed that Mr. Williamson had the temerity to state under oath that he (see page 8 of the report here) --

  • NEVER had a conversation with Mayor Robinson-Briggs about the legality of the payment to WBLS;

  • NEVER discussed the event as possibly an 'emergency service';

  • NEVER had any discussion with Mayor Robinson-Briggs before or after the event about payment for it; and

  • NEVER provided any legal advice to Mayor Robinson-Briggs on the expenditure for the WBLS event.
This directly contradicts Her Honor's claim to have spoken to Mr. Williamson (and also to her personal attorney, Lucas Phillips, Jr.) about whether the Town Hall meeting and broadcast qualified as an emergency service (see the Report, page 5, here)

That is something up with which the Mayor will not put, so it is said.

What to do? Fire him, of course.

But the rumors also suggest that Mayor Robinson-Briggs has learned something from the embarrassment she caused herself by firing former City Administrator Bibi Taylor two weeks before she was due to deliver, with the firing to take effect on Christmas Day 2010. That firing was overturned by a unanimous vote of the City Council, which has review and veto power over the firing of cabinet-level appointments (see my post here).

Some are suggesting that Williamson won't be fired outright, but proposed for another assignment (at a lower pay grade?).

The reason this talk is so startling is that there is no member of her cabinet who has more often gone to bat for the Mayor, more often defended her proposals to the Council and the public, or more often put himself in an awkward position taking point for her often loopy and ill-thought-out resolutions.

Why would one throw such a seasoned and loyal counselor under the bus?

Those who have witnessed the foot stamping fits and unladlylike language the public never (or seldom) sees say Her Honor has a stubborn streak a mile wide, and doesn't like being crossed or made to look the liar, as the Report to the Council does.

Forget about putting one's license to make a living at jeopardy -- loyalty to Her Honor is the highest virtue!

All of this puts the 'odd bits' I noticed at the Council's special meeting to set the reorganization agenda in a little different light (see that post here). Was the reason so many standard items were not brought forward at that time due to Her Honor's fit of pique?

Perhaps Mayor Robinson-Briggs will give it some thought and relent, considering that Mr. Williamson knows 'where the bodies are buried', as the saying goes.

At any rate, if it is to happen at all it would become obvious at the Council's reorganization meeting, set for Tuesday, January 3, 8:00PM at the Courthouse/Council Chambers.

A meeting that may hold some interesting moments.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Plainfield's Kwanzaa Celebration today

 

Plainfield's 2011 Kwanzaa Celebration is today from 3:00 - 7:00 PM at Washington Community School. The free event is sponsored by the Recreation Division through a HEART grant from the Union County Freeholders and is open to the public.

Kwanzaa is a season of celebration, meditation and recommitment.


Today's event features --

  • African Dance & Drumming
  • Book signing highlighting Plainfield author J.M. Benjamin
  • African Market Place (over 15 vendors)
  • Storytelling
  • Traditional Candle Lighting Ceremony
  • Musical Performances
  • Poetry
  • Karamu (Free Refreshments)
Free Admission.

As of Friday morning, I could not find any notice on the City's website.



FREE 2011 KWANZAA CELEBRATION

Friday, December 30 
3:00 - 7:00 PM
WASHINGTON COMMUNITY SCHOOL

427 Darrow Avenue
(Parking available in the Spooner Avenue lot)


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

PMUA: Still no explanation for ex-execs' $$$ demands"


Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) officials were less well prepared for last evening's questions from the public than they have been for a long time. And that leaves ratepayers still without an answer as to the basis for former executives Watson's and Ervin's severance pay claims.

Newly appointed commissioner (and former Ward 3 Councilor) Malcolm R. Dunn and alternate Cecil Sanders arrived a few minutes after chairperson Harold Mitchell (also a former Councilor and Mayor) opened the meeting. Commissioners Carol Brokaw and Alex Tolliver were also present; Tracey Brown was absent.

Leslie London, Esq., counsel to the PMUA, acknowledged that the only item of business to be taken up in the executive session would be a proposal from the attorney for former executives Eric Watson and David Ervin to settle the disputed severance pay issue.

The half dozen or so members of the public were invited to raise questions or make comments before the commissioners went into executive session. These broke down mainly into questions about continuing to pay Watson and Ervin past their final work day and getting a clear statement of the basis for the dispute that is in arbitration.

For the first time Ms. London, who is always meticulously prepared, seemed to falter, with her answers clearly leaving the questioners unsatisfied.

PAYING FOR ACCRUED VACATION/SICK DAYS
Philip Charles, founder of DumpPMUA (see their website here), noted that the agency's resolution 48-2011 of June 14 setting out the pair's last work day as June 30 (see resolution here), did not make any reference to an accrued vacation/sick days payout.

However, he said he had been provided just yesterday afternoon with copies of two agreements between the former executives and the agency (subsequent to the 48-2011 resolution) stipulating they would remain on the rolls until accrued vacation/sick days had been paid out.

Charles did not seem to find Ms. London's explanation that the payout was covered by resolution 48-2011 satisfactory.

In fact, there does not appear to be any impropriety, though the agency could have done a far better job explaining the process. What I have been told is that it is PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) that stipulates an employee remains 'on the books' until all accrued vacation and sick days have been paid out in anticipation of retirement/severance.

Here is my personal experience: When I prepared to retire in 2006, the city's Personnel Division calculated my accrued and unused vacation and sick days. PERS then 'backed into' my FINAL WORK DAY based on the date I became eligible for my pension. The period between my final work day and my termination date (the day before my retirement took effect) was known as my TERMINAL LEAVE. I was still an employee, still receiving benefits, but forbidden from performing any work for the City between those two dates.

Although Mr. Watson, who is in his early 50s, is not eligible to COLLECT his retirement benefits, the process would be similar, calculating forward from his FINAL WORK DAY to the date his accrued vacation and sick days were used up.

It is a process of many decades standing, not a secret, but one to which Gov. Christie objects and on which he intends to put limits.
TWO EMPLOYEES HOLDING THE SAME JOB TITLE?
A Woodland Avenue ratepayer, as well as fellow blogger Bernice Paglia spoke to the related matter of whether two employees could hold the same title at the same time.

This arose because the PMUA commissioners appointed Duane Young executive director as of July 1, 2010.

Bernice rightly noted that Fire Chief Tidwell, who was recently promoted to the position, could not take the title until recently retired chief Cecil Allen had used up his accrued vacation and sick days. (This was true of my position as well when I retired.)

If indeed the Commissioners named Mr. Young as 'executive director' instead of 'interim' or 'acting', this protocol would have been violated. Though it may have been an impropriety, it hardly rises to the level of other improprieties the agency is accused of or suspected of.
BASIS OF THE ARBITRATION CLAIM?
By far the most troublesome question to Ms. London appeared to be disclosing to the public the basis for the former executives' claim, a question posed by ratepayer Bill Kruse.

Ms. London began to answer the question about the basis for the claim by saying that the agency found itself in an 'awkward' position with a 'disagreement between the parties' and that the matter was still in arbitration, adding 'I guess about half-way through'.

Mr. Kruse then asked if the matter was in 'mediation' or 'arbitration', to which Ms. London answered 'arbitration'.

She looked taken aback when Kruse then identified himself as an arbitrator, with more than 30 years experience in the field, and flatly said that the basis of the claim was not privileged information and could not be kept from the public.

He then charged that the commissioners could not give anything away without revealing to the ratepayers the basis for settling.

He ended his remarks with a jibe at the agency, saying that if he encountered a young person intent on a life of crime he would advise public service as a safer and more profitable route.

Ms. London did not give way, however, and the Commissioners shortly adjourned to an upstairs room, leaving the public in the boardroom. 'It's cold outside and we don't want to inconvenience the public', chairperson Mitchell said as they departed.
COULD THIS BE THE BASIS?
As the attendees, left behind with several PMUA employees who also were excluded from the executive session, began to chat among themselves, one proferred a story which could possibly explain the claims -- or at least that of Mr. Watson.

According to this individual, they encountered a commissioner while walking down the street one day after Watson and Ervin had left the agency, and the commissioner volunteered that Mr. Watson said he had received death threats [in connection with a workforce reduction] and was very upset about it. Further, a doctor who examined him was said to have been alarmed about his blood pressure and wanted him hospitalized. The commissioner opined that Mr. Watson stepped down because of this 'health emergency' and considered it 'work-related'.

If true, one can wonder if this is the 'just cause' contemplated by the [conveniently inserted] additional clause in the 2010 contract.

But what about Mr. Ervin?
At any rate, the Commissioners arrived at no decision Wednesday evening and may be divided about whether to give in to the offer by Watson's and Ervin's attorney (see my previous post that outlined rumored settlement terms here) or to continue to pursue arbitration in hopes of a better deal for the ratepayers.

The ratepayers?! Now there's a novel consideration!


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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PMUA will pick up RECYCLES Thursday / Friday


Several Plainfield Today readers noted that the PMUA did not pick up recycles on Wednesday, the scheduled day.

Depending on whether your regular garbage pickup is THURSDAY or FRIDAY, you may put out your RECYCLES (blue can) along with your garbage for pickup today or tomorrow.

Councilor Williams has been told by officials at the PMUA that pickups will be made today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) -- see her blog post here. (She notes she was told they were very shorthanded on Wednesday.)

Any questions, call the PMUA at (908) 226-2518.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In a new Congressional district, Plainfield boosts Holt's edge


Plainfield is the 'tail' in a newly-configured 12th District.
Plainfield has helped turn Congressman Rush Holt into one of the 'winners' in New Jersey's just-concluded decennial redistricting.

With the loss of one seat in the House of Representatives, the drama of New Jersey's Congressional redistricting has landed Plainfield in Holt's newly reconfigured Congressional District, the 12th.

And it's the addition of Plainfield and all of Trenton to his district that leads PolitickerNJ, the state's pre-eminent political affairs website, to declare Holt a winner (see story here).

As PolitickerNJ sees it --

...[e]arly talk focused on a Holt/Lance face off, but instead Holt walks away with a district that is four or five points better for him.  Holt traded Monmouth County for more of Middlesex County and grabbed Plainfield and all of Trenton as well....
Fanwood and all of Scotch Plains below Route 22 was also added to Holt's district, with the portion north of the highway going to Rep. Leonard Lance's district (which is even more friendly to the GOP with the addition of several Morris and Hunterdon County communities).

This practically puts an end to any dreams of Democrats in that District (where Assemblywoman Linda Stender gave it a nominal try, and North Plainfielder Ed Potosnak also gave it a shot). It is this sort of districting, that gives one party an edge and makes districts less competitive, that many political scientists think is at the root of perennially low voter turnouts.

For its part, Plainfield made a significant contribution to Rep. Frank Pallone's most recent re-election (see my post here). Pallone acknowledged same at Union County Dem Chairperson Charlotte DeFilippo's Christmas party following the 2010 election by publicly thanking Plainfield voters -- particularly the New Democrats political club -- for
delivering key pluralities important in his victory (see post here).


Plainfield was a 'tail' in its old district, too.
A comparison of the new and old maps shows Plainfield still at the tail end of a gerrymandered-looking district.

Always the tail and never the dog doesn't mean there isn't a role to play.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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PMUA's special meeting tonight; Commissioners may bow to ex-officials' demands


Commissioners may cave to settlement demands tonight.
Commissioners of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) are set to hold a special meeting at 6:00 PM tonight at the agency's headquarters, 127 Roosevelt Avenue (corner of East 2nd Street).

This is the meeting originally proposed for December 21, for which a quorum could not be gathered, I was told.

It is expected the Commissioners will immediately go into executive session to consider settling the severance dispute with former PMUA executives Eric Watson and David Ervin.

You can find my full report on the issues and the proposed settlement here.

Rumor has it that Watson and Ervin are willing to settle for $775,000, quite a knockdown, but still questionable.

Whatever one thinks of that kind of settlement (you have to ask what the Commissioners were thinking in the first place to agree to the contracts the two were given in 2010), there are said to be other features guaranteed to enrage ratepayers --

  • Watson and Ervin, whose last working day was 6/30/2011, want their separation date reworked to be 12/31/2011;

  • Watson and Ervin would like a specially crafted 'tax-friendly' settlement;

  • Watson and Ervin want the PMUA to pick up their legal costs, said to be $80,000 for their attorney and $15,000 for the mediator;

  • And finally, a plaque honoring their contributions to the Authority to be put up at the PMUA Headquarters building.
Whatever action the Board takes at its special meeting, the question remains open whether ratepayers will complain to Gov. Christie about any excesses.

Gov. Christie has raised a ruckus over the past year with several authorities, vetoing the minutes of actions taken (effectively undoing any settlements and other payments or contracts), and publicly pressing for the resignations of some commissioners and having a say in their replacements.

The PMUA Commissioners have to be nervous about this one.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

PMUA's special meeting Wednesday may settle severance dispute


Calculation of former execs' severance is tied  to their compensation
(here from 2009 public records).
Commissioners of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) are set to hold a special meeting Wednesday, December 28 (tomorrow), at 6:00 PM at the agency's headquarters, 127 Roosevelt Avenue (corner of East 2nd Street).

This is the meeting originally proposed for December 21, for which a quorum could not be gathered, I was told.

It is expected the Commissioners will immediately go into executive session to consider settling the severance dispute with former PMUA executives Eric Watson and David Ervin.

You can find my full report on the issues and the proposed settlement here.

Rumor has it that Watson and Ervin are willing to settle for $775,000, quite a knockdown, but still questionable.

Whatever one thinks of that kind of settlement (you have to ask what the Commissioners were thinking in the first place to agree to the contract the two were given in 2010), there are said to be other features guaranteed to enrage ratepayers --

  • Watson and Ervin, whose last working day was 6/30/2011, want their separation date reworked to be 12/31/2011;

  • Watson and Ervin would like a specially crafted 'tax-friendly' settlement;

  • Watson and Ervin want the PMUA to pick up their legal costs, said to be $80,000 for their attorney and $15,000 for the mediator;

  • And finally, a plaque honoring their contributions to the Authority to be put up at the PMUA Headquarters building.
Whatever action the Board takes at its special meeting, the question remains open whether ratepayers will complain to Gov. Christie about any excesses.

Gov. Christie has raised a ruckus over the past year with several authorities, vetoing the minutes of actions taken (effectively undoing any settlements and other payments or contracts), and publicly pressing for the resignations of some commissioners and having a say in their replacements.

The PMUA Commissioners have to be nervous about this one.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Man struck on Watchung Avenue loses leg


Man struck near bus stop is said to have lost a leg.
 
Going out for the papers about 5:00 AM the morning after Christmas, I found the Plainfield Police Division had blocked off Watchung Avenue at East Front and East Second Streets.

I could see a Union County Crime Scene Investigation vehicle near Front Street, and a camera on a tripod for photographing the scene. There was a dark sedan parked in the middle of the street just past the NJT bus stop in front of the Texas Wiener and what appeared to be one of the sidewalk trash cans in the roadway.

I was told later that about 2:30 AM, a car struck a man. It wasn't clear if the man was a sanitation worker or a person who is sometimes seen rummaging through downtown trash receptacles for aluminum cans.

Having struck the man, the driver is said to have fled the vehicle on foot, leaving it in the roadway. I was also told the man was so badly injured that his leg was severed.

Anyone with information should call the Plainfield Police Division at (908) 753-3131.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Will Investors Bank prosecute Mayor Robinson-Briggs?


Was the bank defrauded by issuing the $15,000 check for one purpose
and having it used by Mayor Robinson-Briggs for another?
Whether Investors Savings Bank (ISB), which donated $15,000 for Plainfield's 2010 July 4th celebrations, will prosecute Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs over her disposition of the check it issued is one of the unanswered questions surrounding the investigation into the funding of the August 1, 2010 radio broadcast of Her Honor's community forum.

At issue is whether Mayor Robinson-Briggs' statements concerning obtaining the check and its ultimate disposition constituted defrauding Investors Savings Bank.

What we know from the City Council's Independent Counsel's published report (see the complete document online here) are the following --

  • Caren Fisher of the Plainfield branch of Investors Savings Bank (ISB) said the funds were 'earmarked for the July 4th sponsorship' and that there was 'no mention of using these funds for the sponsorship of the WBLS event' (page 11);

  • Former City Administrator Bibi Taylor stated the check 'was dedicated to the July 4th sponsorship and therefore could not be used for the WBLS event' (page 10);

  • Mayor Robinson-Briggs testified that she 'spoke to a representative of ISB and indicated they (meaning Her Honor) would like to use the donation for an upcoming event' (page 6);

  • Counsel Rivera indicates his office's conversation with Ms. Fisher of ISB indicated the check 'was submitted to the City to be used specifically for the July 4th events which they had agreed to sponsor (page 6).
With Investor Savings Bank's Ms. Fisher stating only that the bank had proferred the funds as sponsorship of July 4th celebrations and had not agreed to Mayor Robinson-Briggs' switching of the use of the funds to the WBLS radio broadcast, the question arises as to whether Robinson-Briggs intended to defraud Investors Savings Bank.

One online legal dictionary offers this definition of 'defraud' --

...to use deceit, falsehoods, or trickery to obtain money, an object, rights or anything of value belonging to another... (see here).
-- but note that a court of law would have to decide whether Mayor Robinson-Briggs used 'deceit, falsehoods, or trickery' to obtain the $15,000.

One thing for sure is that Robinson-Briggs would have to produce convincing evidence in a courtroom for her assertion that an employee of ISB had agreed to the switch -- most likely the person themself, under oath -- and not just Her Honor's say-so.

But I don't think Mayor Robinson-Briggs is going to need to worry her little head over the matter.

Why?

Because, despite whatever they may believe about the truth of the matter, neither the City Council nor the public has any legal standing in the matter. If anyone was harmed, it would have to be Investors Savings Bank, and the bank would have to prosecute Mayor Robinson-Briggs, which I think highly unlikely.

For two reasons --

  • First, there are rumors that officials of the Bank would just like the whole issue 'to go away' since it is an embarrassment of a high order; and

  • Second, the bank -- now New Jersey's third largest -- is in a high-growth mode, involving purchases of other banking businesses (read about the most recent purchase of a Brooklyn-based bank here), and doesn't need any sticky items for bank regulators to ask questions about as expected future purchases are under review.
So, apart from publicly embarrassing herself and the City of Plainfield, my guess is that Mayor Robinson-Briggs will face no legal penalty for her actions.

Does this mean she will not be seen as trying another fast one in the future?

I wouldn't go so far as to say that.






Along with its growth, Investors has changed its name in a rebranding move.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, and more...




Merry Christmas
Feliz Navidad
Fröhliche Weihnact
God Jul
Krismasi Njema
Веселого Різдва
ਮੈਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ।
Wesołych świąt
Joyeux Noël




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dreams of Gingerbread Houses

 

For your holiday delight, Plainfield Today suggests checking out some mind-boggling GINGERBREAD HOUSES -- see here, courtesy of blogger Suzana, who writes at Social Cafe Magazine.

We always loved them as kids, though the gingerbread in those days was inedible. This year, Aldi's offers a complete kit, with pre-baked pre-formed gingerbread, pre-made frosting and an assortment of decorative candies. Plus instructions. Perfect gift for some of the little ones on my list.

If you haven't finished shopping...what are you waiting for?!!


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Three samples of Plainfield's Holiday spirit


John Stewart, Jr., with guests at his Christmas Party.
This year's Christmas season in Plainfield offered samples of three of the perpetual strands in their celebration --

SERVICE TO OTHERS

New Democrats club prepared and served a meal for YMCA residents.


8-year-old Niajah Lawton prepared 100 gift bags for residents
(with a little help from her aunt Dee).

Residents of the YMCA enjoyed a home-cooked Holiday meal prepared and served by members and friends of Plainfield's New Democrats political club, who then joined as guests of the residents at dinner. (I made green beans and bacon, and I'm not even a cook.)

Besides the food, Niajah Lawton, 8-year-old niece of Dee Dameron, made up 100 Holiday gift bags for the residents (with a little help from her mom and her aunt Dee).

Councilor Adrian Mapp wrote up the event on his blog (see here).
ENJOYMENT OF THE SEASON

Councilors Mapp and Storch and their wives were among the guests.
John Stewart, Jr. and his partner Craig Bowman opened their magnificent West 8th Street home to a formal Christmas gathering. The glittering evening of tuxes, gowns and furs reminded all that the Holidays are a season to entertain friends and celebrate conviviality.

What better place to do it in than one of Plainfield's signature mansions, lovingly restored to its former grandeur?

For a selection of photos from the party, check out John's Facebook album here.
TENDING TO BUSINESS
Lastly, the Holidays are always an opportunity for business people to thank their customers and wish them well for the New Year.

This year, I especially enjoyed the Holiday party hosted by realtor Cynthia Alexander and her husband Jim Galvin.

Inviting both her buyers and her sellers, it was a marvelous opportunity to get a snapshot of Plainfield in transition, as oldtimers gathered for their last Plainfield Christmas (friends Susan and Steven sold their house, yay!). And to meet others who are settling in to their new homes and for whom this was an opportunity to meet and make new friends as they celebrate their first Christmas in Plainfield.

Thank you, Cynthia and Jim, for a wonderful time, and for connecting newcomers to oldtimers! All the best for the New Year!


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

FULL REPORT HERE: Council's investigation into funding the WBLS broadcast


Report: Mayor, city employees broke law.

Mayor solicited contribution for July 4 Parade,
applied to WBLS broadcast without getting permission from Investors Bank.

Plainfield Today is pleased to make available for your online reading or download the complete report to the City Council of independent counsel Ramon Rivera on the questions surrounding the funding of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' Town Hall Meeting of August 1, 2010 on WBLS.

Courier reporter Mark Spivey has a front-page story today on the matter titled 'Report: Plainfield mayor broke law' (see here), detailing findings of fact concerning the roles of Mayor Robinson-Briggs and city employees.


Council: WBLS Investigators Report

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Maurice Fitzgibbons dies, created Plainfield UEZ marketing program


UEZ logo captured Plainfield's several facets.


Maurice Fitzgibbons designed the Plainfield
Urban Enterprise Zone's first (and only) marketing effort.
Maurice Fitzgibbons, creator of Plainfield's Urban Enterprise Zone's only marketing program to date, died Sunday evening at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City surrounded by his family, according to a news obituary on NJ.com filed Monday evening (see here).

Known throughout the state as a longtime Hudson County Freeholder, Maurice was also famed for his sunny disposition, knowledgability on many topics besides government, and his successful marketing consulting business, FitzMedia, LLC.

It was through FitzMedia that many in Plainfield's UEZ community got to know and work with Maurice and his talented staff.

Under the late Mayor Al McWilliams, Maurice undertook three notable projects for work marketing Plainfield's Urban Enterprise Zone.

The first was to develop a branding strategy and logo for the Urban Enterprise Zone. The logo was developed by the FitzMedia team, with input from City of Plainfield staff -- including Economic Development Director Pat Ballard Fox, UEZ administrator Jacques Howard and myself as the city's public information officer.

 

Great care went into the design of a UEZ logo that would brand
Plainfield as welcoming, historic and brimming with economic activity.

The logo is in bright, welcoming colors featuring representations of Plainfield historic commercial buildings, the conical roof outline of its famed Victorian mansions, and welcoming trees and sunshine of our many neighborhoods.

The second was to develop a portable display for use at both outdoor and indoor community events, street fairs, and other opportunities to either publicize the UEZ program or recruit new members.



Pat Ballard and Jacques Howard showing off the modular UEZ display booth.
The third was the development of the 'Home Arts of Plainfield, New Jersey' brochure. Featuring scores of Plainfield UEZ businesses engaged in providing goods and services for home restoration, remodeling or restyling, the brochure was targeted at homeowners in a market area centered on Plainfield and designed to entice buyers to the many offerings to be found in Plainfield (see copy of the brochure online at end of this post).

You must remember that this was at the height of the housing market and homeowners were spending significantly to add to, enhance or upgrade their homes. Plainfield had the perfect mix of businesses set to help them fulfill their dreams for their homes.

Though the logo, the booth and the brochure disappeared shortly after Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took office in 2006, the map of the city with a street index, also prepared by FitzMedia and keyed to the marketing campaign, is still available on the handout racks at City Hall. (Realtors covet them to this day as handouts to prospective homebuyers).

Besides being a consummate professional in the marketing field, Maurice was something of a bon vivant. Every joint working session would begin with the arrival of Maurice and staff with huge bags stuffed with fresh Italian bread from his favorite Hoboken or Jersey City bakeries to be given out to all. (When I remarked once it seemed unusual for an Irishman to have an Italian signature item -- 'where's the Irish soda bread?' I joked -- Maurice said it was natural because he was half-Italian. Which perhaps explains the sunny nature.)

Maurice brought an instinctive understanding of how to market Plainfield to its strengths -- its diversity of residents and businesses, its architectural heritage, its downtown full of promise, its constant influx of newcomers with their cultural contributions. We certainly benefited from the help he gave.

All those who knew him in Plainfield will surely miss him, as I do.

Farewell, Maurice, and thank you for everything you did for Plainfield.

A viewing is being held today (Wednesday) from 3 to 8 PM at the Lawton Turso Funeral Home, 633 Washington Street, Hoboken.

A funeral Mass will be held Thursday at 10 AM at St. Ann's Church, 700 Jefferson Street, Hoboken. See full information here.

Below is an online copy of the Home Arts brochure.


UEZ HomeArts Brochure




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Odd bits from the Council meeting


Do bits of shell mean they're the real thing?

 Plainfield's City Council met in a special session Monday evening to set the agenda for the Council's 2012 reorganization meeting, which will be Tuesday, January 3, at 8:00 PM in the Courthouse/Council Chambers.

I was reminded of a perpetual debate from my Air Force days.

I enlisted at the height of the Cold War, before the Bay of Pigs or Vietnam. While we were engaged in no active wars, America still had about 1.5 million men and women in uniform.

This meant bases with large numbers of servicemen and women being fed in huge dining halls. Our constant debate was about the endless large pans of bland scrambled eggs found at every morning's breakfast.

Rumor was they were made from powdered eggs, not the real things. And to fool us, it was said the cooks would crush real eggshells into fine pieces and stir them into the eggs. Whenever anyone got a little piece of shell in a mouthful, they would instinctively stop chewing and put the little speck on the edge of the all-in-one tray.

A few such hard little bits came up last night amid the generally bland but pleasantly relaxed routine of setting the reorg meeting's agenda.

Herewith some 'eggshells' --

CFO QUESTIONS?

When the Administration advised the expected financial reports were not being provided (check register, budget status, revenue report, overtime and vendor activity), Director of Administration and Finance Al Restaino apologized, said they would be on hand 'tomorrow morning' and that there were 'continuing issues'.


Later, Restaino advised the Administration would be bringing a resolution forward at the reorg to appoint Mr. Zilinski as Treasurer for calendar year 2012. There was no mention of appointing him Chief Financial Officer. (He has been holding two positions as a way of not endangering his retirement benefits, I have been told.) There has been grumbling from both the Council and the Administration about the amount of time Zilinski puts in (said to be two days per week) and overall progress in straightening out purchasing and audit and control, which are in his bailiwick.

Is Zilinski being eased out? Is Mayor Robinson-Briggs on the hunt for a new CFO? Maybe we'll learn more at the reorg meeting.

GETTING AGENDA-SETTING PACKETS TO COUNCIL MEMBERS

During a discussion of the 'standing rules of order', Councilor Storch made a plea for the Administration to get the packets for the monthly agenda-setting session to the Council earlier than late Friday evening, which leaves members only Saturday and Sunday to digest the material and part of Monday for the Administration to get answers together.


The discussion brought out that while Mayor Robinson-Briggs has weekly day-long cabinet meetings on Wednesdays, only the one immediately before the Council's agenda-session is used to set up resolutions. This leaves departments Thursday to get materials to the Clerk and the Clerk's office with a crush of work on Friday to get packets ready.

Councilor Mapp finally suggested that perhaps the Administration could move its cabinet meeting for that one week up to Monday or Tuesday instead, giving everyone down the chain more time and hopefully getting packets to Councilors by Wednesday night or Thursday.

Anything in this regard would be a benefit to everyone, including the Robinson-Briggs administration. Will we see a change in 2012?

TEMPORARY BUDGET APPROPRIATIONS AND BUDGET PROCESS

Pending the adoption of a budget for Calendar Year 2012, the city's first on the new calendar cycle, there will need to be a temporary appropriation to keep city government functioning.

The Robinson-Briggs administration proposed a three-month funding, which the state allows at 26.25% of the preceding year's budget. Councilor Mapp helped Director Restaino over a little rough patch here, explaining that the amount would be calculated based on the last half of the previous FY2012 budget, plus the total of the six-month interim budget. Mapp also noted that state law gave the governing body the prerogative of authorizing the temporary appropriations on a month-by-month basis. This has the effect of keeping an administration's toes to the fire, so to speak.

Mapp also asked City Administrator Berry if the Robinson-Briggs administration would cooperate in having the traditional defense by departments at Council budget hearings. The answer to both that question and the question of whether the budget would be delivered 'on time' was given in the affirmative by Mr. Berry. If 'on time' means on the state's stipulated deadline, we'll have to see about that as very few municipalities make that cut.

'MISSING' RESOLUTIONS

Those following along with the printed order of discussion could notice that several items traditionally found in the annual reorganization were missing --

No items for Administration/Executive Branch, usually an extensive list;
No items for Corporation Counsel (Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson advised verbally there would be resolutions for 3 prosecutors and 3 public defenders, per correspondence received from the Mayor).

NAMING DEPOSITORIES, ETC.

Councilor Mapp noted that there was no resolution for adoption of a
CORRECTION: CASH management plan tax management plan and that he wanted to see one presented as a matter of good form.

A discussion of depositories also ensued. These are the bank(s) that the governing body designates to hold the city's funds. Mr. Restaino said several had responded to requests for proposals and that the Administration was busy trying to align the services offered, the interest rates offered, and other factors to make the best proposals.

Everyone gingerly skirted around the elephant in the room -- that Mayor Robinson-Briggs had on her own initiative transferred all city accounts to Investor Savings when other banks decided they would no longer offer municipal depository services in New Jersey.

This will be another item of interest at the reorg meeting.
So, with all these pieces of 'eggshell' pushed to the edge of the tray, the question remains: Are the eggs powdered or the real McCoy?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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