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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Softball Tournament fundraiser for Wounded Warrior Project

While Plainfielders will be celebrating veterans and returning heroes at the annual Independence Day Parade on Saturday, July 7, there is also an opportunity to support the Wounded Warrior Project.

Advances in medical treatment of those injured on the battlefield has meant that more wounded military personnel are surviving to return to civilian life -- but with more serious injuries and rehabilitation needs.

Wounded Warrior Project got its start among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and friends, as stated on the organization's website --

Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) began when several veterans and friends, moved by stories of the first wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq, took action to help others in need. What started as a program to provide comfort items to wounded service members has grown into a complete rehabilitative effort to assist warriors as they recover and transition back to civilian life.
Central Jerseyans will have a unique opportunity to show their support for these wounded veterans by participating in a Softball Tournament Fundraiser on behalf of the organization.

The tournament will run from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Wednesday, July 4 (with the championship game at 3 PM), at La Grande Park in Fanwood (La Grande is the extension of East 7th Street).

There is an entry fee of $150 per team (organizers can also pair up individuals or small groups to make a team).

The event is family-friendly and there will be food available for purchase throughout the day.

To play or volunteer, contact Maj. Thomas Roughneen at (908) 246-9963 or email him at

You can learn more about the Wounded Warrior Project by visiting their website (here) or their Facebook page (here). The nonprofit has an admirable three-star rating  by Charity Navigator for
organizational transparency and percentage of funds devoted to direct programs (see here).

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Friday, June 29, 2012

    Healthcare & Election: Fates cut Obama some slack

    Supporter outside Supreme Court after ruling (photo from
    Like the rest of the country, Plainfield is buzzing over the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Thursday upholding the constitutionality of President Obama's health care reform on narrow grounds.

    Olddoc, who has staked out this turf in earlier posts, promises to put his thoughts into a further post analyzing the decision's impact (check back here for that item).

    My interest, as usual, is on the POLITICAL impact of the decision -- specifically on the upcoming presidential election.

    I think the fates have given President Obama a boon.

    He now has a grand opportunity to explain the benefits of the healthcare act to the American public in a concise and straightforward fashion as he did hours after the ruling came down Thursday.

    He can answer Romney attacks by acknowledging the debt he owed to Romney for shaping the proposal in the first place. And he can make sure Romney has no place to hide when trying to twist or misinterpret the facts.

    Yes, the question of jobs is important at election time. It has been all along, since Day One of the Obama administration, and the effort expended on health care by Obama while neglecting other issues was greatly frustrating to the President's supporters.

    Now Obama can focus on both points in his re-election campaign.

    There are many further issues to be resolved, as the pundits are busily pointing out. But those will all take time -- from many months to several years.

    But the concept of reforming healthcare is now fully recognized, and the Republicans who want to unwrite the law must face the prospect that they will be portrayed as meaning to take away something from the public, to deprive it of a benefit.

    It might be instructive to recall the history of Medicare, where opponents initially painted it as 'socialized medicine' only to have little old GOP ladies protest 'Keep your hands off my Medicare' during the debates leading up to the adoption of the new healthcare reform bill.

    'Obamacare', coined by GOP strategists as a derogatory and pejorative term may yet become a badge of honor.

    I, for one, am looking forward to the Fall campaign season with more hopefulness and less stress. I think it's now Obama's to lose.

    Meanwhile, I am amused at the know-nothing attitudes of some plainly ignorant opponents of the healthcare reform who say they are now planning to move to Canada (see the BuzzFeed story here) because the United States is becoming 'a commie nation'.

    Let's hope they enjoy the truly socialized medicine of our friendly northern neighbor!

    You can check out an overview of Canadian healthcare here.

    President Obama campaigning for reform in 2010.

      -- Dan Damon [follow]

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      Thursday, June 28, 2012

      Dan recovers Mayor's press release taken down from website

      Screenshot of mayor's press release on city's website
      before being removed without warning (Courtesy of Councilor Rebecca Williams).
      After Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs got called out yesterday by Councilor Williams (see here) and Olddoc (see here) for using the city's website to post a press release on a ruling in the matter between herself and the Council that is now in the courts, the press release mysteriously disappeared from the front page of the website.

      As fate would have it, I had opened the document in Adobe Reader and saved a complete copy of it, including authorship and time of composition, which is available online (here) and at the end of this post below.

      There are several issues to note with regard to the press release:

      Mayor Robinson-Briggs has sued the Council, alleging her constitutional right to confront her accuser(s) was violated in the matter of the Council's investigation into how $20,000 was allocated from city funds to pay for the broadcast of a community forum on WBLS in August 2010. And further that the $200 fine imposed (as allowed for by the city's special charter) denied her her constitutional right to due process.

      Notwithstanding her complaint, it is totally inappropriate of Mayor Robinson-Briggs to use a city employee, Terry West, to prepare the press release and issue it on his official stationery. It is simply one more in a string of the Mayor's lapses in being able to distinguish between herself and her role as an elected official (a modern-day incarnation of 'L'√Čtat c'est moi').

      It does not speak well of Mr. West that he allowed himself to be abused in this matter; it is no secret that the lawsuit is her personal business, as has been discussed openly in Council meetings and Mayor Robinson-Briggs is looking to recover her personal outlays in the matter. The very first thing a public information officer should be is well-informed about matters on which he stakes his reputation as a professional. Grade West and Robinson-Briggs both 'F' on this one.
      Further, the press release misstates the facts.

      Mayor Robinson-Briggs has sued the Council; that matter is still going forward and has yet to be heard.

      The Council asked the court to dismiss Her Honor's lawsuit, citing the city's special charter as authorizing its investigation, its reprimand and the imposition of the $200 fine allowed by the charter.

      We already knew that the court was going to rule against the fine -- as I had discussed in a prior post (see here) -- on the basis that the city's special charter does not provide any mechanism for enforcement of a fine.

      Mayor Robinson-Briggs' press release is in response to that expected ruling. Unfortunately, neither Robinson-Briggs nor PIO West saw fit to post the entire text of Judge Cassidy's ruling online, but I am willing to bet that the judge ruled on the narrow technical grounds that there is no enforcement mechanism.

      The matters of substance are expected to be addressed when the mayor's lawsuit is (eventually) heard. Meanwhile, the Council underscored its corrected understanding of the situation earlier this month by rescinding the original resolution (with the fine) and adopting another resolution reaffirming its reprimand of Mayor Robinson-Briggs but dropping the fine.

      Without access to Judge Cassidy's ruling, there is no way to verify Mayor Robinson-Briggs' claim that the judge 'recognizes' her rights have been 'violated'. It will be interesting to watch the Mayor tap dance her way through the lawsuit when it finally comes to trial.

      Lastly, West closes the release with a quote from Robinson-Briggs saying that the county prosecutor 'found nothing criminal in my effort to establish a gang truce that ultimately saved lives'.

      This, too, is not exactly a recitation of the facts. Prosecutor Romankow merely said that his office wouldn't seek to prosecute Mayor Robinson-Briggs. The mayor's attempt to portray the funding of the WBLS broadcast as part of establishing a gang truce completely ignores the fact that no such truce was discussed or contemplated at the time of the radio broadcast; in fact, nine months were to pass before the so-called truce, and at the time it was announced Mayor Robinson-Briggs appeared to have played no role in setting it up.
      Lastly, Mayor Robinson-Briggs continues to harp on her desire to use Council meetings as a place to showboat, saying 'I hope in the future the City Council will afford me the opportunity to be heard on matters of public importance'.

      Mayor Robinson-Briggs is simply barking up the wrong tree.

      The office of mayor provides her with a splendid bully pulpit to 'be heard on matters of public importance' -- she has at her disposal a website, a cable channel, the tool of press conferences and media advisories, and her appearances before groups throughout the city.

      Council meetings are an inappropriate venue for Her Honor; they ought to be consumed with the Council's attending to the public's business and not to airy meringues of posturizing and self-aggrandizement by Mayor Robinson-Briggs.

      Properties sheet for PDF document shows author and time of composition.

      SRB Release CourtRulesOnCouncilFine 120626

      -- Dan Damon [follow]

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      Wednesday, June 27, 2012

      Dan gets his walking papers


      Plainfield Today should get back into things more deeply now that Dan has gotten his walking papers.

      After meeting with the good folks from the prosthetics/orthotics clinic yesterday, I got my walking papers. I'll be discharged from JFK after lunch today and will start in the out-patient prosthetic training clinic as soon as my blisters are certified closed -- probably end of next week.

      The main thing the person I'll be working with urged was to get my car situation sorted out ASAP so that I can drive myself back and forth to out-patient rehab.


      -- Dan Damon [follow]

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      Tuesday, June 26, 2012

      Who to believe? City or Mapp?

      Tonight's Town Hall location, per the city website...

      ...and per Council President Adrian Mapp.
      So, Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs proposed in her budget to beef up the information-delivery capabilities of her administration by adding more staff.

      Would that have made the calendar listing for tonight's Town Hall meeting more accurate?

      How many Robinson-Briggs employees does it take to screw in a light bulb?

      As usual, those who bet on Council President Mapp are spending their money wisely.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Monday, June 25, 2012

        Dan hits a bump in the road

        Like the sign says...
        Looks like I'll be back in Plainfield on time Wednesday, but not exactly as expected.

        Nothing in life ever develops in a straight line, including projected rehab outcomes. I checked in to JFK on June 17 for ten days of intensive physical therapy intended to get me up and walking on my new prosthesis.

        That has happened and in fact I reached my ten-day goals after four days, which should have meant I would be close to walking with only a cane (or perhaps nothing at all) if I continued through to the end of my stay.

        But there is a bump in the road.

        After walking about a half mile on Friday, indoors and out, wet grass and dry sidewalks, hall after hall and tromping up and down steps, and a 15-minute stint on the exercise bike, I was looking forward to moving up a notch Monday morning.

        However, an examination on Saturday AM showed a large blister had developed overnight on the base of the stump. Blisters are the nemesis. All progress stops as they must completely dry out (and cannot be 'popped') and heal before I can go forward again.

        So, my last two days will be spent OFF my new leg and meeting with the prosthetists to tweak the leg so -- hopefully -- the problem will not repeat itself.

        One step forward, two steps back. Sounds like a therapy exercise!

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Sunday, June 24, 2012

        Questions about Tidwell matter

        The incident begins at New York Avenue (bottom
        edge of map) and ends on Plainfield Avenue (at top).
        There is more than a little bit troubling about the news of the arrest of Plainfield Fire Chief Frank Tidwell by South Plainfield police about 1:00 AM Wednesday on a charge of driving while intoxicated.

        Beginning with why it broke on the Courier's website only a few hours later, before any details on the charge or circumstances were in.

        Let me state up front that I am not a disinterested observer.

        Frank Tidwell is a friend and was a co-worker when I worked for the city; he and I have also worked together on community-oriented projects in the past. I hold him in the highest regard as a professional and a person with great integrity. I certainly hope he has a good lawyer, because something about this incident smells fishy.

        I have had my suspicions about the borough's police ever since a friend of mine was followed into the driveway of her Plainfield home by a South Plainfield police officer and harassed. Her crime? 'Driving while Black'. A spunky fighter, she pursued the matter until she got justice, but it left an indelible image of the South Plainfield police in my mind.

        So, the first question as I scanned the online story was 'where's the story'? The initial item was so brief, I wondered how it got put online to begin with. Was the Courier picking it up from listening to the police scanner? Did someone at South Plainfield police headquarters think it was hot news? or have an axe to grind?

        I figured that the Courier's ace reporter Mark Spivey would have a more detailed story up later, which indeed he did (see here). But that did nothing to assuage my feelings something was missing or amiss here.

        The first thing that caught my eye was the blood alcohol level, stated in the story as '0.09' percent. This is a smidge over the legal limit of 0.08. Over yes, but hardly the stuff of dramatic 'stop the presses' headline treatment. Was it because Tidwell is a high-profile public employee? Though a DWI is a traffic offense and not a criminal charge per se, the charge has led to public embarrassment and job loss on occasion, as close observers of the newspapers will know.

        As anyone
        who has hung around cops will tell you, if you're going to get busted for one thing (say DWI), the officer is going to make sure that any supporting issues that could explain 'probable cause' for the officer's action are included in the charges. Did the driver cross a yellow line? Or ignore a turning lane indication? Was the driver talking on a cellphone? Or speeding, etc.?

        So, it was with interest that I tried to piece together just exactly what stretch of road(s) this all happened on.

        According to Spivey's details from the police report, the officer seems to have started following Tidwell's vehicle as it traveled north on Hamilton Boulevard near New York Avenue, terminating with the arrest on Plainfield Avenue near the borough's police headquarters.

        New York Avenue comes into Hamilton Boulevard along with Camden Avenue at a point where the Boulevard makes a very sharp right hand turn. There used to be a carpet remnant store facing into the turn which I always thought must be subject to being hit by cars that misjudge their speed and overshoot the turn. At any rate, I'm willing to bet that ninety percent of the vehicles making that turn touch or cross the yellow line -- stone sober as well as drunk.

        Then there is the intersection at New Market Road where Tidwell allegedly drove straight through in a left-turn lane. Frequent travelers through South Plainfield will recall that this intersection was widened and enlarged recently, with the addition of the left-turn lane at the light and a short extension of New Market Road that curves around to end  at Spicer Avenue. Late at night, with little or no traffic, I'm willing to bet this is lane is also frequently violated by those driving straight through. Another technical foul.

        I certainly hope that Chief Tidwell has a good lawyer who will pick apart every detail of the charges and that the case will be decided on the most germane points, as a traffic offense only, and that the Chief can get on with the execution of his responsibilities for the City.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Saturday, June 23, 2012

        Downtown Block Party today

        Crowd enjoying musicians in 2011.
        The Plainfield SID's 4th annual Downtown Block Party takes place this Saturday, June 23, from 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM on East Front Street between Park and Watchung Avenues.

        Music, food, entertainment for all. Special features includes the Plainfield High School Marching Band and the Plainfield Symphony.

        Car, truck and bike show. SID gift certificates drawings. Ronald McDonald and the Plainfield Fire Division's 'Sparky'.

        Fun for the whole family.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Friday, June 22, 2012

        Plainfield Habitat hires first-ever construction manager

        Greater Plainfield Habitat is growing and is adding its first-ever full-time construction manager.

        Tom Wescoe comes to the Plainfield affiliate with over thirty years of experience in home construction, project management and land development -- including positions with Pulte Homes, K. Hovnanian and Toll Brothers, all major New Jersey housing developers.

        Tom's job will involve managing dual responsibilities -- interacting with and successfully utilizing the volunteer base, including partner families whose 200 hours of sweat equity are helping build their own homes and the chapter's individual and organizational volunteers; and
        managing the construction process in an efficient and affordable manner with quality outcomes.

        Tom is coming on board as the Plainfield Zoning Board of Adjustment has OK'ed final plans for a 5-unit project on West 7th Street.

        Volunteers and friends of Greater Plainfield Habitat are invited to meet Tom at a breakfast where he will be welcomed aboard, Friday, July 6th, 8:00 AM, at Plainfield Habitat, 2 Randolph Road (corner of Park Avenue). All are invited, but since a hot breakfast is planned, please confirm your attendance by calling the office at (908) 769-5292. For more information on Greater Plainfield Habitat, visit the website here, or become a fan on Facebook here.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Thursday, June 21, 2012

        Hospital Food 101: When is a scone a scone?

        Like Granny McGowan used to make.
        Though Plainfielders may only occasionally encounter it, the question may arise whether hospital food is 'food' as we commonly understand it. At least the thought occurred to me today when I ordered a 'raisin scone' for breakfast.

        As my friends know, I come from the 'Mikey' school of food appreciation (as in the 1980s cereal commercial, 'Give it to Mikey. Mikey eats anything'.) and really fuss very little about what is put in front of me.

        JFK's 'Bedside Bistro' menu allows each patient to order every meal a la carte, and meals are individually delivered about 45 minutes later. A very nice touch. The food is pretty standard fare in ample portions, though not highly seasoned -- as befits a diverse clientele.

        I've tried just about everything for lunch and dinner and, as Mikey would say, 'Yum!'.

        My interest was piqued though that the breakfast menu contained a 'raisin scone'.

        Now my stepmother's mother, Granny McGowan, who emigrated from Ayrshire in southwestern Scotland in the 1920s, used to make scones from scratch for breakfast.

        A scone (Granny always said 'skON' as opposed to 'skOWN'), is a Scottish quick bread using baking powder for its leavening. Granny McGowan cooked hers on a griddle as opposed to baking in the oven. Hers were the size of a large English muffin, crisp on the bottom and wonderfully light and fluffy within. You broke them open and slathered them with butter or marmalade and had a royal treat.

        So that's what I was expecting.

        When the tray arrived, there was a small, hard, well-browned thing about the size of a hockey puck sitting on a small plate.

        'Is this it?' I asked.

        The server said she could offer me an additional one if I thought it were too small.

        I opted for the extra, but found the experience not at all up to my imagination of scones past. It was very dry, very hard, browned almost to burnt on the bottom and much sweeter than a scone should be.

        Was it a scone?

        Granny McGowan would probably have turned up her nose, but I ate the two gratefully, thinking it's a long time 'til lunch.

        Tomorrow, I will go back to tried-and-true scrambled eggs and toast.

        Maybe I'll try making some scones myself when I get home, though I remember my stepmother's frustration in trying to write down a recipe for them from Granny.

        Granny said, 'Well, you take a wee bit o' flour and some baking powdirrr and...'

        But I am a Food Network fan, and Alton Brown has what seems like a good recipe here.

        The only real question is, skillet or oven?

        NOTE: Sorry to be so late this morning, my morning therapy session time was shifted without warning. Hazards of therapy!

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Wednesday, June 20, 2012

        SID Downtown Block Party Saturday

        Crowd enjoying musicians in 2011.
        The Plainfield SID's 4th annual Downtown Block Party takes place this Saturday, June 23, from 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM on East Front Street between Park and Watchung Avenues.

        Music, food, entertainment for all. Special features includes the Plainfield High School Marching Band and the Plainfield Symphony.

        Car, truck and bike show. SID gift certificates drawings. Ronald McDonald and the Plainfield Fire Division's 'Sparky'.

        Fun for the whole family.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

        View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.

        Tuesday, June 19, 2012

        [Rehab] Kinesthesia, or walking and chewing gum at the same time

        After a lot of practice, it just 'feels' right, without looking.
        The next time you find yourself walking and chewing gum at the same time, think of Plainfield Today. Well, not PT, but Dan and rehab and the marvel of how our brain/bodies function in our milieus.

        The chewing gum metaphor came to mind (you do remember President Gerald Ford's issues with walking and chewing gum at the same time, right?) on Monday, the first day of my rehab. Physical therapist Dane and I got to talking about using our legs and sensing them as part of us without watching them all the time.

        Turns out he, too, plays the organ. So I said, well it's just like learning to play the pedal keyboard. You can't be looking down at your feet while you're doing it -- after all, you're playing maybe two keyboards, following the music and coordinating the stops to affect the sound of the organ. A whole lot to juggle at the same time.

        And he said that he has never learned to play the pedals and that it looks very daunting.

        To which I said, 'kinesthesia', sort of a shorthand term for training the body-brain instrument to 'know' where things are in space, without actually looking at them. Which is really just an extension of your hands knowing where they are on the keyboard and the fingering of the notes -- which becomes 'automatic' after thousands of repetitions of scales and training exercises.

        That, he said, is what learning to walk on and live with a prosthetic leg is like.

        You can't be watching it all the time because you have many other things to coordinate (which may also include chewing gum). So, you practice -- the equivalent of scales and finger exercises -- until eventually you can sense the position, direction and force of your prosthetic's movement kinesthetically, without seeming to give it a thought (though of course your brain/body is hard at work).

        And it will feel -- and look to observers -- 'just right'.

        So, today I go from two hours on the prosthesis to four hours and tomorrow to eight, thence to all waking hours. Like practicing scales all day long.

        But, just like the piano teacher said, it's good for you.

        For more on playing the organ pedal keyboard see here; on kinesthesia see here; and a great YouTube video of a solo pedal piece called 'Playing Footsie' based on Yankee Doodle, see here.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Monday, June 18, 2012

        WBLS Affair: Reprimand of mayor to stand?

        WBLS matter to be resolved tonight?
        Tonight's Plainfield City Council agenda has two items concerning Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' misadventures funding the August 2010 WBLS broadcast, in which monies received from Investors Bank for one purpose were appropriated by Her Honor for another -- the radio broadcast.

        What I am being told is that Plainfield's special charter, which gives the Council the power to fine the Mayor in this matter, omits any mechanism for effectuating such a fine.

        What that suggests is that the fine, permitted but unenforceable, will be dropped but not the reprimand.

        And you can be sure that Mayor Robinson-Briggs will try to crow from the rooftops that she has been vindicated.

        Despite that fact that the check shows otherwise.

        Oz, as Olddoc says, Oz.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Sunday, June 17, 2012

        Dan checks into JFK rehab today

        Dan at San Diego Zoo, BG
        (before grey hair)
        Dan checks in to JFK's rehab unit later this morning for about a week of intensive rehab to get me up and running on my prosthesis.

        Sadly, Plainfield Today will miss Monday's Council meeting and Tuesday's Board of Ed -- where word has it the interim superintendent Anna Belin Pyles will be anointed.

        I am more than ready for this stint as they will teach me how to walk on this thing and maintain it. Though the doctor said 'a week', I take that with a grain of salt. The good thing is we're finally getting under way.

        And when I'm done ... no more wheelchair, no more crutch, no more walker.


        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Saturday, June 16, 2012

        Vigil in memory of homicide victim at 11 AM today

        Manuel Moscoso was murdered May 10 while waiting for a ride to work.
        El Centro Hispanoamericano, Plainfield's oldest Latino outreach organization, is organizing a vigil in memory of homicide victim Manuel Moscoso this morning from 11:00 AM to Noon.

        The silent march will step off from the parking lot at United Presbyterian Church, 525 East Front Street (site of El Centro's headquarters) and proceed west on Front Street to the foot of Plainfield Avenue and thence return to its starting point.

        Mr. Moscoso was shot in cold blood early in the morning of May 10 as he was waiting in front of Supremo Supermarket for his daily ride to work.

        The group, which will include members of the El Centro community, will proceed single file down Front Street bearing signs and placards, in English and Spanish, memorializing Mr. Moscoso and calling upon the entire community to come together to stop violence, declaring El Centro's message of 'Dignity, Respect and Justice' for all.

        The vigil procession will stop for a moment of silence and a few words of spoken reflection at the spot where Mr. Moscoso lost his life. Moscoso left a wife and five children ranging in age from 11 to 29. He was a citizen of El Salvador with an employment authorization card and had been a client of El Centro since his arrival in 2000.

        For more information on
        El Centro and how you can help, see their website here.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Friday, June 15, 2012

        Plainfield potter opens show at Metuchen's Marafiki

        Potter and Plainfield resident Larry Quirk
        at the wheel.
        Plainfield potter and Van Wyck Brooks Historic District resident and activist Larry Quirk has a show of his pottery opening Saturday at Marafiki Fair Trade in Metuchen with an artist's reception from 6 - 8 PM.

        Larry, an indefatigable presence in all things VWB, from house tours to the annual 12th Night Progressive Dinner, also maintains a regular email blast to update residents on everything from stray pets to suspicious characters to ... his pottery.

        After thirty-one years as a trial attorney, Larry started exploring a second career at the potter's wheel which has since become, as he says, 'an addiction', to which he has fully dedicated himself.

        Recently, Larry has focused on making tea pots, which intrigue the artist as the form is both confining (tea pots must have handles, lids and spouts) and liberating in the variety of shapes, textures and themes allowing the artist free rein.

        Larry's show is part of Marafiki Free Trade shop's ongoing American Artists series. While Larry's creations will be on display and available for sale, you may also browse the shop's offerings of fair trade items that help fight poverty and climate change and promote economic justice worldwide.

        Marafiki Fair Trade is located at 20 New Street, Metuchen, just off Main Street near the train station. Phone: (732) 902-6300.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Thursday, June 14, 2012

        What city administrator Berry fails to tell the state in his letters

        A series of three letters were sent to the state over Plainfield City Administrator Eric Berry's signature on June 12 that have caused considerable eyebrow-raising. While they purport to be written by the Administrator himself, that is open to question: some matters mentioned took place while Mr. Berry was vacationing (in Europe, I've been told) and some involve knowledge of the statutes that sound more like an attorney's bailiwick than an administrator's.

        You can read the actual letters themselves online and make your own judgments --

        • Concerning budget errors by the Robinson-Briggs administration and Library funding (see here);
        • Concerning appropriation of $50,000 for study of re-absorbing the PMUA into the city (see here); and
        • Concerning funding of the Corporation Counsel's office (see here).
        Additionally, several observers have already commented on the letters --

        • Councilor Rebecca Williams (see here);
        • Bernice Paglia (see here); and
        • Dr. Yood (see here).
        and you can read their thoughts on the matter at the links above.

        The bottom line is that the author -- whoever it may be -- mischaracterizes the facts, leaves out important details embarrassing to the Administration's case and engages in special pleading.

        With regard to the Robinson-Briggs administration's miscalculations and omissions from the budget, Berry fails to acknowledge that he is ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the budget proposal and that he did nothing prior to its introduction by the administration to guarantee that it was complete and accurate.

        Secondly, Berry fails to mention that the state's review found significant issues with accuracy and flagged the budget April 5th. Not only that, neither Mayor Robinson-Briggs nor City Administrator Berry informed the City Council, the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee or -- apparently -- the Administration's own budget consultant David Kochel (see my previous post on whether heads should roll for this lapse here), until the matter came to light at the May 24 budget hearing.

        Perhaps most damagingly for Mayor Robinson-Briggs and Mr. Berry is the fact that the mayor gave Berry permission to take vacation time while this mess was dumped on the Council. Think of the captain of the Titanic going on vacation after the iceberg has been struck, and without telling the crew or passengers. You get my point.

        And then the state is asked to intervene in the funding of the Plainfield Public Library and take Mayor Robinson-Briggs' point of view that library funding should be cut to the statutory minimum, again with misrepresentation of some facts and omission of others. Berry also fails to point out that this is the second year in a row in which Mayor Robinson-Briggs has warred on the library and its patrons or that last year's proposed cut was checked by the City Council.

        One of the remaining letters treats the appropriation of $50,000 by the Council to its 'other expenses' line to cover the projected costs of legal and engineering studies on the feasibility of re-absorbing the PMUA into the city's Division of Public Works. Though there is indeed contention here, even Councilor Reid has admitted that his was the fifth vote on the appropriation and the state has already noted the appropriation stands.

        Lastly, the third letter is a case of special pleading for the lawyers, that they should be fully employed, at the taxpayer's expense.

        Hopefully, the Divison of Local Government Services has more serious things to do than accommodate Mayor Robinson-Briggs' and Administrator Berry's opera bouffe.

        (Sorry for delay in posting, had an appointment with the prosthetist at the crack of dawn this AM -- Dan)

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Wednesday, June 13, 2012

        Council unanimously agrees to look into city charter change

        Plainfield City Council unanimously agreed at Tuesday's agenda session to move toward establishment of a charter study commission to review and make proposals for a change of the city's governing document.

        Plainfield's city charter was last updated in 1968 and is showing signs of being antiquated. Just one of eight cities with a special charter adopted by the Legislature
        (out of a total of 566 municipalities in the state), Plainfield's charter is now considerably at variance with New Jersey state law in several regards, leading to confusion over how disputed matters are to be resolved.

        While neither the Council nor the legal opinions offered last night were crystal clear on the process, Rutgers' Center for Government Services offers a complete overview of the types of municipal organization available to NJ communities and the process of establishing and carrying through a municipal charter study (see Rutgers website here).

        For reference, the current Plainfield city charter is available online here.

        If the Council moves expeditiously, it is possible that the question could be on this November's ballot. Voters would be given the opportunity to vote yes or no on establishing a charter study commission and would vote for five candidates among as many names as are put forward to serve. The top five vote-getters would become the charter study commission.

        Plainfield last had a charter study about twenty years ago, under Mayor Mark Fury. The commission made no recommendation for change, partly owing to concerns that any new form would allow for dual office-holding (at both the local and the state levels), a possibility no one cared to see come to pass. Since that time, New Jersey has undergone a major shift on the question and future candidates are barred from serving both at the municipal and state levels of government.

        A resolution is expected to appear on next Monday's business meeting agenda.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Tuesday, June 12, 2012

        State to City: $50,000 for PMUA study stays in budget

        Mayor Robinson-Briggs is doing everything she can to derail
        studying re-absorption of the PMUA into city operations.
        In an email circulating in Plainfield City Hall, the state is advising the Robinson-Briggs administration that a $50,000 budget line added by the Council at its April 9 meeting to the routine temporary appropriations made pending the approval of the final budget (now expected on June 18) was done properly and is to stay in the final budget. (Though not on the formal agenda for this evening, I wouldn't be surprised if the Robinson-Briggs administration or its chief apologist on the Council, Bill Reid, finds a way to bring it up.)

        The amount is to cover anticipated expenses in paying for legal and other professional advice in the matter of re-absorbing the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) into City operations.

        Re-absorbing the solid waste operations into the City's Division of Public Works would address several issues simultaneously --

        • Overhead would be reduced by eliminating excessive administrative layers, thus giving ratepayers direct relief;

        • Front line workers would find their jobs preserved by being moved over to the city; and

        • Ratepayers would recover the ability to take a tax deduction for their sewer taxes.
        The Robinson-Briggs administration is fighting tooth and nail to delay, if not derail, the proposed study and the news from the state is sure to upset both Mayor Robinson-Briggs and her chief Council supporter in resisting the study initiative, Ward 1 Councilor Bill Reid. 

        Though the Robinson-Briggs administration is checked on this move, it is not a checkmate yet, and resolution of the PMUA mess may yet elude the Council.


        6:00 PM
        Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) Commissioners

        127 Roosevelt Avenue (Corner of East 2nd Street)
        Parking in PMUA lot or on the street.

        7:30 PM
        City Council Agenda Session

        City Hall Library
        515 Watchung Avenue
        (Parking and entry in the rear of building)

        8:00 PM
        Board of Ed

        PHS Conference Room
        950 Park Avenue
        (Parking in school lots or on street)

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Monday, June 11, 2012

        Will true cost to ratepayers of $1M PMUA 'giveaway' be $10 million?

        Magic 8-ball reconsiders.

        Is it possible that decisions of the new majority of Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) commissioners (Malcolm Dunn, Cecil Sanders and Alex Toliver) can already be set to cost Plainfield ratepayers $10 million?

        In addition to the $1 million cash settlement giveaway to former execs Watson and Ervin?

        That is what I was told over the weekend.

        Here's the story.

        The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority is one of 72 members of the NJ Utilities Authorities Joint Insurance Fund (see website here and the umbrella Municipal Excess Liability website here). Or, at least it was -- until the JIF got wind of the shenanigans with the PMUA.

        Joint Insurance Funds are a kind of shared service whereby many entities in New Jersey -- from local municipalities to county governments to other governmental and quasi-governmental agencies -- pool their insurable risks (whether worker-related, liability related or administrative-related) to save taxpayers and ratepayers money by 'self-insuring' as opposed to going into the open commercial market for insurance.

        I am told that the JIF has gotten very nervous about potential exposure through the goings on at the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, especially with regard to actions of the Commissioners, and has 'kicked them out'.

        What is not clear is whether the PMUA has been removed from the Directors and Officers rider ONLY, or from the JIF ENTIRELY.

        Removal from the
        Directors and Officers coverage would expose each and every Commissioner to the possibility of liability lawsuits for a variety of actions taken by the Board of Commissioners (for instance, terminating an arbitration proceeding improperly and making a settlement offer to former executives who had previously voluntarily resigned).

        Expulsion from the JIF entirely would cast the PMUA on the tender mercies of the commercial insurance market, and that is where I am told the $10 million figure arises. Would that be an annual premium? I don't know anything about insurance rates, but this does not sound to me like a believable number; perhaps an extra zero or two has been inserted into the figure?

        Quite an unhappy outcome for turning bulls loose in the china shop, and quite a mess for the Commissioners to take up at their Tuesday meeting.

        On the other hand, trouble with JIF could explain why insurance mogul Gary Taffet of Reliable Insurance Group LLC in Woodbridge would care to contribute to Tracey Brown's city council campaign fund. (As an aside, Reliable is already the Board of Ed's insurer, and has been blocked from being named by the Robinson-Briggs administration as a city insurer because of the Council's resistance over there being no public bidding of the contract.)

        Meanwhile, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, with an exquisite sense of timing, has resubmitted her nominations to the Council, giving Dunn sidekick Cecil Sanders a full seat (he is currently an alternate) and former Councilor and Mayor Harold Mitchell an alternate's seat (he is currently the chairperson).

        Watch your pocketbooks, ladies and gentlemen.


        6:00 PM
        Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) Commissioners

        127 Roosevelt Avenue (Corner of East 2nd Street)
        Parking in PMUA lot or on the street.

        7:30 PM
        City Council Agenda Session

        City Hall Library
        515 Watchung Avenue
        (Parking and entry in the rear of building)

        8:00 PM
        Board of Ed

        PHS Conference Room
        950 Park Avenue
        (Parking in school lots or on street)

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

        View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.

        Sunday, June 10, 2012

        Exhibit: North Plainfield students history exhibit at Drake House today

        Students at North Plainfield's East End elementary school have mounted an exhibition on Plainfield and North Plainfield area history which opens Sunday afternoon with a reception between 2:00 and 5:00 PM.

        As part of an exploration of the area's history, students from the grade school toured the Drake House Museum and developed their own exhibits, research reports, photographs, displays and hand-made artifacts.

        The show is in the museum's second floor gallery space, and the public is cordially invited to come out and meet the students and their families and teachers.

        The Drake House is at 602 West Front Street (foot of Plainfield Avenue), with parking in the museum's own lot and on adjacent Geraud Avenue.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Saturday, June 9, 2012

        Mayor Robinson-Briggs nominates CFO; other personnel news

        Still looking for 'just and capable government'...
        Among items of interest on Tuesday's (note day!) City Council agenda is Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' nomination of Diane Sherry Buono as Chief Financial Officer, a constitutional officer whose slot has been vacant since the sudden resignation of CFO Ron Zilinski at the end of January, 2012. A Google search shows Ms. Sherry Buono as CFO of Lambertville, NJ (see the city's roster here).

        The nomination comes as there are two other personnel changes -- these owing to departures.

        Sadly, Deputy Clerk India Coles is reported to be leaving for a similar post in another nearby municipality. She will be missed by those who have had reason to come into contact with the Clerk's office, which has been revitalized under the leadership of the city's newest Municipal Clerk, 'AJ' Jalloh (it's a race to see whether he or I will be the first to walk into the Clerk's office without benefit of crutches).

        There is no particular sadness in noting that David Spaulding is now the former purchasing agent. Spaulding came under intense scrutiny for his role in the diversion of $15,000 from Investors Bank intended for the July 4th Parade, but applied on the instructions of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs to fund a WBLS broadcast of a town hall meeting in August 2010. Hopefully, he has found a job where his new boss will not pressure him to violate purchasing rules and regulations.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Grant allows Drake House to finish exterior restoration

        The grant will allow finishing of entryway, here shown when
        accessibility ramp was constructed.

        With a $20,000 grant from the Plainfield Foundation, the Historical Society of Plainfield is poised to finish the exterior restoration of the city's Drake House Museum.

        The grant is a match against a $30,000 grant already received from the Union County Historic Preservation Trust Fund, and will be applied to Phase III of the society's restoration plan for the historic farmhouse.

        Work at the entry way will be completed with the finishing of the front porch and the dormer window above it as well as repairs to the slate roof caused by a falling tree a few years ago. Interior work will include the installation of a handicap-accessible restroom on the ground floor.

        Check out the new website put together by volunteer Carlos Cardoza here.

        The Drake House is at 602 West Front Street (at the foot of Plainfield Avenue) and is open Sundays from 2 - 4 PM. Parking available on site.

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

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        Friday, June 8, 2012

        Board of Ed, PMUA secrets to be revealed June 12?

        Magic 8 Ball knows all...
        Plainfielders will have a triple bill of excitement next Tuesday, June 12, with a City Council agenda session, the regular PMUA commissioners meeting and a Board of Ed meeting for which no agenda has yet been posted.

        The buzz in the street is that the PMUA meeting (at 6:00 PM, the first of the evening) should be 'interesting'. No one will tell me what that means exactly, but among questions hanging in the air are the funding of the $1 million payout to former execs Watson and Ervin; whether or not interim executive director Duane Young will stay with the agency; and a 'musical chairs' situation with the Commissioners, with the Council withholding action on nominations and Commissioner Brown faced with deciding whether to stay or leave at this point.

        The Board of Ed is said to be having a meeting that same evening, though you will find no notice of (I misspoke) agenda for it on the District's website (the last one listed is May 15). This, if it happens, would no doubt take up the matter of the appointment of a permanent superintendent.

        Having played the game very close to the chest, there is hardly any mystery left to school watchers, since the announced goal has been to have the new super start July 1. That would mean that an outside person (such as the assistant Trenton super who was a 'finalist') would hardly have time at this late date to give their home district proper notice of leaving.

        So that indicates -- surprise of surprises! -- that the Plainfield Board of Ed has decided to go with interim superintendent Anna Belin Pyles. And that notwithstanding an unfulfilled promise at the 'meet and greet' with the finalists at Emerson School that questions posed to them would be posted on the District's website.

        That meeting would get under way at 8:00 PM, though whether in the PHS Auditorium or the Conference Room is not clear at this time.

        In between the two meetings, at 7:30 PM, City Council will hold its June agenda setting session. (The Monday following the June primary election day is always set aside for the local political party committees to organize, hence no Council meeting. Republicans and Democrats elect their committee members to two-year terms in alternate years; this year it is the Republicans' turn.)

        After the tense process surrounding the Robinson-Briggs administration's seriously flawed budget proposal -- now finally resolved -- the agenda session can be expected to be bland and anticlimactic.

        Or can it?


        6:00 PM
        Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) Commissioners
        127 Roosevelt Avenue (Corner of East 2nd Street)
        Parking in PMUA lot or on the street.

        7:30 PM
        City Council Agenda Session
        City Hall Library
        515 Watchung Avenue
        (Parking and entry in the rear of building)

        8:00 PM
        Board of Ed
        PHS Auditorium or Conference Room?
        950 Park Avenue
        (Parking in school lots or on street)

        -- Dan Damon [follow]

        View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.