Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mayor Sharon gets an 'F' for storm response

Among hundreds of trees felled by Sandy, one is this 'city tree'
which narrowly missed striking St. Marks Episcopal Church on Park Avenue.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs gets an 'F' for her response to Super Storm Sandy, in my humble opinion.

With days of advance notice that the storm was coming, and a quite accurate prediction that landfall would take place along the New Jersey shore and impact central Jersey severely, what public preparations did the mayor take?

The sum of Mayor Robinson-Briggs' public preparations seems to have been designating Emerson and Washington Schools as well as the Senior Center as emergency shelters, and to announce on the city's website that City Hall would be open for business on Monday, October 29, the day the storm hit.

By 5:30 PM that day, Plainfielders had lost power -- some not to regain it for a full two weeks.

In such situations, one of the most important needs of the general population is for INFORMATION.

What is going on? What is being done to recover? What to do about food, shelter, medical emergencies? How to get accurate, timely information on recovery progress?

While we sat in the dark, without power or heat, listening to the hand-cranked emergency radio, we waited in vain to hear Mayor Sharon call in to 101.5 (or WBLS or WNYC or any other station) to give any kind of update as so many other New Jersey mayors were doing.

The mayor did not reach out to Council members, and when they tried to call her cellphone they got a message that her voicemail box was full. Text messages to her asking for updates and volunteering assistance went unanswered.

No wonder that Councilors Mapp, Williams and Storch began to copy and circulate PSE&G and FEMA information by hand in the neighborhoods and to post the same to their blogs.

While the city did post some brief notices on the website, apparently no effort was made to reach out to residents in as many other ways as possible.

This contrasts sharply with Westfield (see Ledger story
here), where officials went through the neighborhoods broadcasting on bullhorns, enlisted high school students to circulate flyers throughout the community, and mounted several conference calls between officials and residents (one of which drew 4,600 phones hooked into the call).

In Cranford, the police kept the public in the loop through using Twitter, FaceBook and Nixle (see story

Nixle (see more here) is a mass notification system that is free to local police departments. Over 5,000 jurisdictions in the US offer the service, which alerts subscribers by way of text messages. Among towns using the service in our area are Newark, Piscataway, Morristown, Cranford, Hillsborough and South Brunswick. Why not Plainfield?

New Providence's Office of Emergency Management send news updates to the media, which were printed in Ledger and local newspaper outlets (see here).

In Plainfield, there were no bullhorn broadcasts. No students mobilized. No conference calls to dial into for information.

Why not?

While police, fire and public works crews got to work immediately, it wasn't until Saturday, November 3, that a 'press release' from the Mayor was posted on the city's website.

The morning after the storm, the police had traffic flowing through Front Street, Park Avenue and South Avenue, with stop signs mounted at key intersections. (I am told by police sources that Director Hellwig made a cameo appearance and then spent days at his Staten Island home, checking in by phone.)

Public Works crews were busily removing fallen trees that did not have to have PSE&G workers shut down wires first.

The Mayor was nowhere to be seen (helping to explain the persistent rumor that she used the occasion to vacation in Bermuda).

Meanwhile, DPWUD director Eric Jackson, Public Works Superintendent John Louise and City Solicitor Dave Minchello (whose wife had just given birth to a son) worked tirelessly to restore services and monitor PSE&G's progress.

I am told by a source with FEMA connections that no official from Plainfield -- not Mayor Robinson-Briggs, Public Safety Director Hellwig, nor Emergency Management Coordinator Sheldon Green -- contacted them about using the County office building at Park-Madison as a regional office. Instead, FEMA officials unfamiliar with the area located services in a highly inconvenient location for Plainfielders, many of whom are dependent on public transportation.

While in communities such as Fanwood (see story
here), Maplewood and South Orange, the library became the community's hub following the storm, Mayor Robinson-Briggs made no such provision for Plainfield.

The city should long ago have concluded that this centrally-located facility with ample parking was a key component of its emergency preparedness plan (if there is one), and should be supplied with backup generators as a permanent capital improvement. In a time where Internet access and wireless electronic devices have become essential, what better place to offer the public access as an emergency service?

Though power has been restored to most of the city, and most streets are cleared (though West 8th is still blocked between Arlington and Central, and the traffic light at West Front and Clinton is still not functioning), what residents need is a sign from the mayor that she has learned how important it is to have an up-to-date emergency plan, and to make relevant portions of it available to the public via the city website.

Doing that would let me improve her grade from an 'F' to a 'D-'.

Still not a passing grade, but better than an 'F'.

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Anonymous said...

This was just another example of the Mayor's incompetence. She cannot lead. Where was she when residents' had trees fall on their houses? Where was she when power was out for two weeks?

Bob said...

I am ashamed to have this person the mayor of my city. She deserves all the derision we can give her. She should have coordinated with all of her cabinet and with the Federal and State agencies. She did not! We have an absentee mayor when we really need her. she has put the nail in the coffin that is her desire to be mayor for another term. She deserves what she gives us in Plainfiel, nothing! Shame on you, Sharon. You don't deserve to be our mayor.

The Editor said...

It also would have been helpful if Plainfield had posted announcements through the Union County Alert System. A neighbor told me about UC Alert after the storm. As a result, I have learned a lot about what has been happening in Scotch Plains, nothing has been posted from Plainfield. Were it not for Rebecca Williams on Facebook and Adrian Mapp's blog, I would have had no Plainfield information at all.

Anonymous said...

What the heck did you think she would do, I am sure she took care of herself and her political hanger ons and left the rest of us to fend for ourselfs. 101.5 had many mayors and other public officials on air communicating on what was going on and any other information they could relay. We heard nothing from her, council members or any other Plainfield or Union County public official. You people keep reelectic the same clowns and when things go wrong you complain then a few years later you reelect them again. We have nobody to blame but ourselfs as we have allowed these individuals to go unchecked and not be held accountable for the public trust. This complacency is further compounded by the fact their is only one politically corrupt party representing us yet you keep sending them back to power. I am not saying any other politically connected party or individual would have done better. Until we start taking back our government and hold them accountable they will continue to only think of themselves. From here on in no elected official shall serve more than one term until they start to do the will of the people and can be trusted with the power GRANTED to them. But if history holds true you all will do the same thing again and send the same clowns back to office. Either take part in protecting your rights or become a walking Zoombie controled by the power of the corrupt.

Anonymous said...

In addition, when I went to the shelter most of the work was being done by volunteer networks and public school employees who donated supplies and times. The city wasn't prepared.

Anonymous said...

Mayor Sharon was fantastic during the Storm.
She umm ?
then hmmm
but then she umm umm
I'll get to you Dan

Anonymous said...

In Scotch Plains the mayor fired the director of the OEM for doing a lousy job. Shouldn't Plainfield do the same?
Oh, I forgot: Plainfield's Emergency Management Coordinator is Sheldon Green, Jerry Green's son. Never mind.

Anonymous said...

You give the Mayor an “F”??? Dan, you’re too kind. I say we give her an “O” for OUT, along with Hellwig and Green! Let me see, the storm hit on Monday, October 29 and we lost ALL power, getting a cable bundle means no power, no phone, no internet, cell phone service was out as well. So what does our wonderful Mayor do????? She posts a letter on the city website announcing a curfew from 7pm until 6am on October 30!!! WHO CAN READ IT??????? Duh, no power, no internet!!! How would the police enforce it? Did they even know about it?? Then the Wizard of OZ, Queen Sharon, posts another information letter on November 3, again I ask, who can read it?????? We were TOTALLY in the dark! (pun intended) I have been in Planfield for 61 years and believe me I have seen many hurricanes and hard winters and believe me, we have never been treated this way. How was the information given out that PSE&G would be giving out ice, water and food? When my power was FINALLY restored, catching up with my online newspapers, I saw the pictures. As for Mr. Mapp and Mr. Storch (my councilman), posting on their blogs, we couldn’t read them either!!!! Obviously Mr. Storch picks and chooses which constituents to inform, because he sure as heck didn’t come in our neighborhood. I am so disgusted with the entire situation and feel totally disrespected as a resident!

Anonymous said...

just wanted to share that while the letter from the mayor and the board of education may have been dated November 3rd, many of us did not receive them until November 6th which was a full 8 days after the storm landed. that's 8 days in the dark, with no school and no communication from our "clueless leader". i don't blame anyone for this cluster**** we were in but the mayor for her arrogance and stupidity and hope this will be a wake up call for everyone who suffered through and without so much as a thought from the person who claims to be in charge. i certainly hope there will be a state investigation into her behavior because it is obvious that something went wrong here big time in plainfield and it didn't have to if people would have just done their damn job.

Anonymous said...

You obviously were not at the city committee meeting where the mayor talked about going through the streets with a bull horn and talking to the residents (as well as someone with a bullhorn who was speaking in Spanish). Don't know where that was. And you missed Jerry Green fawning over what a great job his son did.

Many in the audience did not agree. I guess it takes too much talent to just let people know that if there is a major catastrophe, just go to XXXX school/church/building, and you can get information there. Too hard, I guess.

Anonymous said...

It must have been coincidence. The first PSE&G trucks to arrive on Woodland Avenue began working on the block by Jerry's house, then took off after they had finished. Two days later, they came back to repair other blocks on Woodland.

Anonymous said...

NO information and NO power for 9 days after the storm. If the mayor and her assistant did actually do the "bullhorn" and radio announcement thing, many residents didn't hear/see it. Perhaps we were in line for 3 hours trying to get gas. Or maybe we were trying to keep the house warm by cutting firewood. Or maybe we were out trying to hunt down ice so that we didn't lose all of our food. Or maybe I cranked my solar radio on just one second too late to hear any announcement that may have been made. Lastly, the Plainfield Board of Education robo calls us 50 gazillion times to tell us that schools are closed or on delayed opening on any given day (on my cell too). Why wasn't that option utilized. In addition and if my memory serves me correctly, the Board of Education also had a bright BANNER across the front of their website with voting information. Where was that big bright banner of information on the City of Plainfield's website? Non-existent. The only information I could find on the city's website (once I could finally access it 9 days after the storm) was a small link scrolling up the left side of the screen. And believe me, you had to catch it as it rode on up the page or you missed it. What Well people, you know what to do. Go to the next city council meeting and let them have it. Then when she's up for re-election, do NOT vote for her.

Anonymous said...

Can't feel sorry for Plainfield. You voted for her. Reap what you sow.

Anonymous said...

Does she get a "regular" F or a "dummb" F ?