The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Will someone please turn up Burney's Valium drip?


Two Remington & Vernick contributions to Burney's 2010 campaign
he fails to mention.



...plus another $2,500 from an insurance vendor and an engineering firm he forgets to mention.
 
Will someone please turn up former Plainfield Councilor Rashid Burney's Valium drip? Thank you.

Once again, Burney has turned to using Olddoc's blog (see here, and comments Doc refers to here) to post an ill-tempered and overlong (981 words) rant about...well, about what?

  • Rashid is still angry at the New Dems (he was first elected as a New Dem, so did he 'frisk the local vendors' when he ran back then?);

  • Rashid is angry that all ('New' and 'Old') Democrats unite in the November election (he forgets to mention Democratic campaign signs are always placed in front of his house);

  • Rashid takes Council President Adrian Mapp to task for receiving two contributions totaling $500 from Remington & Vernick, the city's engineers at his annual (and hardly secret) birthday party.
Let's review --

RASHID AND PAY-TO-PLAY CONTRIBUTIONS

So, Council President Mapp received two checks totaling $500 (I understand one has been, or is being, returned -- meaning Mapp will have received a total of$250).

As Councilor Storch pointed out after the new ordinance was adopted, it does not stop vendor contributions (nor is it meant to), but forces vendors to disclose contributions if they are seeking business (see my summary of the ordinances here).

What Burney fails to mention is just how his own campaign in 2010 benefited from contributions he 'frisked' from local vendors (to use his colorful verb).

You can view Burney's complete ELEC reports online (see here, especially the 6/25/2010 report) --

  • Rashid took $1,000 from Remington & Vernick, the second check being from the R&V employee's wife, evidently attempting to disguise the true source of the contribution (those with long memories will recall that Burney voted for Remington & Vernick as the city's engineers after $300,000 in campaign contributions were 'wheeled' into Robinson-Briggs' successful 2005 mayoral campaign -- Burney says they have made $3 million on the contracts);

  • Rashid took $1,000 from insurance vendor Martin Statfeld (for an interesting Record story on Statfeld and 'wheeling' political contributions around the state, see here; but more explosive is the CountyWatchers revelation that in one 9-month period, Statfeld gave $75,000 to various Dem committees and candidates, see here); and

  • Rashid took $1,500 from T&M Associates, an engineering vendor.
This $3,500 from vendors, plus another $1.500 from a die-hard local supporter, account for $5,000 of the $5,665.98 in over-$300 contributions made to Burney for the 2010 campaign.

Did Remington & Vernick or Martin Statfeld 'buy' any of Burney's votes?
BYPASSING ANNUAL CONTRIBUTION LIMITS?

Burney alleges that Mapp held a 2011 fundraiser to 'bypass annual contribution limits' (forgetting that birthdays are an annual occurence?).

Here Burney shows his ignorance.

Campaign committees have just TWO CYCLES: the Primary Election of the election for which the candidate is running and the General Election cycle. The General Election cycle runs from post-primary to the General Election. The Primary cycle runs from after the General Election to the NEXT Primary Election for the candidate -- three and a half years later. The total contribution limits hold for the entire period. There is no such thing as an annual 'reset' on campaign committee contributions.
A CHEAP INSINUATING SHOT

Lastly, Burney insinuates under-$300 contributions 'were probably also...from Plainfield vendors' not required to be reported individually.

Well, them's the rules. Were Burney's under-$300 contributions from vendors? Who will ever know -- besides Burney?

How about just acknowledging that a whole lot of folks can afford to make relatively small political contributions and let it go at that?
Whether it was Burney or Olddoc that put up the epigram for the post, it has a certain bite --

"Getting a lecture on morality from a politician is like getting a lecture on chastity from a whore." -- Perry de Havilland


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Is Robinson-Briggs refusing to pay her fine?, and other questions...


Smart-ass Magic 8 Ball!
 
Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' involvement with money is endlessly fascinating.

Over the weekend, rumors surfaced that Her Honor will be refusing to pay the $200 fine levied by the City Council in its resolution reprimanding her and forwarding the results of its factfinding investigation to officials with prosecutorial and disciplinary authority: the Attorney General, the Union County Prosecutor and the Department of Community Affairs (see previous coverage of that issue here, including link to Olddoc's posting of the complete resolution of reprimand).

The mention by someone that Councilor Bill Reid is no longer Robinson-Briggs' campaign treasurer spurred a search of the Election Law Enforcement Commission's (ELEC) online reports, where the 2011 fourth quarter report of Her Honor's campaign committee was due January 15.  A search early Monday morning (see here) shows the most recent filing is the third quarter report, filed in October 2011.

Lastly, the matter of the 'Sharon Robinson-Briggs Civic Association'.

My attention here was keyed by a story Friday on PolitickerNJ about a lawsuit against Union City Mayor (and State Senator) Brian Stack, alleging that he used the 'Brian Stack Civic Association' as an illegal funnel for campaign contributions and doling out contracts based on contributions to the fund (see story here). Shades of Sharpe James!

At any rate, these 'Civic Associations', which are legal, are supposed to be registered as nonprofits, devote their monies to community-related activities, and file the detailed reports required of nonprofits concerning fundraising and expenditures.

I remember hearing months ago that Mayor Robinson-Briggs had established such a nonprofit, and more recently that she and Councilor Rivers had held a joint fundraiser at Hugo's.

So, do I wait and see if the fundraiser appears on Mayor Robinson-Briggs' campaign committee report or do I try to track down the Sharon Robinson-Briggs Civic Association records?

So many choices, so little time!


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield IDed: A Headmasterly Home


Ad from Westfield Leader, 4/11/1974.

Headmaster's home on Field Avenue behind the school.
Yesterday's Hidden Plainfield was once home to the headmaster of Wardlaw Country Day School.

Wardlaw was a private school for boys that merged with The Hartridge School in 1976.



1936 Football team poses on front steps of school
at 1030 Central Avenue (see story here).
The Wardlaw property at 1030 Central Avenue was taken over by the duCret School of the Arts.

Wardlaw had already located its upper school on the Inman Road campus, with the lower school being located on the Hartridge property on Plainfield Avenue until 1997, when a new wing was added to the Edison campus.

Where shall we go next week?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hidden Plainfield: A Headmasterly Home


The gambrel-roofed home had five working fireplaces.
Today's Hidden Plainfield home is one of many comfortable Colonial Revival-style homes that can be found throughout the Queen City. Note the ornate scrollwork over the second floor window and the Palladian triple window in the attic.

But this one was exceptional for once being home to a school headmaster.

Back in my life as a realtor, I sold this home which featured five working fireplaces with the original tiled surrounds. Susan Callender, a fellow realtor and office mate, loaned me a picture of herself at a children's birthday party in the dining room of the house in the 1940s.

Only the wallpaper had changed over the years.

Do you know where today's property is?

Answer tomorrow.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Double your fun at Plainfield DQ's Half Price Sale today


This scrumptious-looking Super Bowl cake is just one of many at half-price today.
Today only you can double your fun at Plainfield DQ's Half Price Sale.

Donna and the Albanese family are saying 'thank you' to their customers for their support throughout the year by offering everything in the store at half off today. (We all know that the Albanese family supports the community throughout the year.)



Donna explaining business matters to a visiting class on Thursday.
Blizzards? Cones? Sundaes? Lunch?

You got it.

Plus all the cakes -- even the Super Bowl cake ready for next Sunday.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Council could beat Plainfield Board of Ed to punch in move to November election

 
City Council could beat the Plainfield Board of Ed to punch in moving the District to November school board elections, which are allowed by a recently-signed new law.

Gov. Christie signed the bill (S-3148, see online here) into law on January 17, after it was passed by both houses of the Legislature during the lame duck session. The bill's signing was covered prominently by both the Ledger (see here) and NJ Spotlight (see here).

The law provides for the elections to be moved to the date of the November general election if the District's budget will not exceed the state's 2% increase cap. The commitment is for an initial four years.

Though the districts will have to enter an agreement with their respective counties to take up the extra expense to the county involved in managing the election process, it is sure to be less than a district spends on running its own standalone election. In Plainfield, turnouts can be lower than 1,000 voters, which makes a school board election pricey indeed.

In December, Maria alerted folks that the bill was going to be under consideration in the 'lame duck' session of the Legislature (see her post here), and last week I posed the question whether the Plainfield Board of Ed would be considering moving the election date (see my post here).

The Board of Ed subsequently scheduled a special meeting for January 24, advertising it on the District's website (see the agenda here, note there is no mention of changing the election date).

Wednesday afternoon I received notice of the NJ Department of Education's FAQ on the process of switching election dates, which can be done by a simple resolution of the Board of Education or the municipal governing body (the Plainfield City Council). You can see the FAQ, which includes a sample resolution for adoption, online here.

I wrote to Board of Ed President Renata Hernandez in an email yesterday, inquiring whether and when the board might be taking up discussion of the changes, to which she replied within a few minutes --

Mr. Damon - as was shared at the Special Meeting held this past Tuesday, a discussion concerning the subject matter noted herein will take place in public at the next scheduled board meeting 2/14; within the recently communicated deadline shared today via NJSB announcements.
I must admit I do not recall it being mentioned, but I did not stay to the bitter end, thinking the presentation on 'reconfiguring' the schools was the important item and the rest were of a routine nature. (It is strange it would be discussed at all at a special meeting, as the law is quite clear that items not advertised cannot be brought up.)

There are some who think the Grand SLAM team's support for changing the election date is lukewarm at best, since it would guarantee a much larger turnout, thus making it harder to win the four seats that will be up. This year will no doubt be marked by an enormous Plainfield turnout as President Obama's re-election will be on the ballot.

But it just
might not be the Grand SLAM team's call, as the City Council can pass the needed resolution before the Board of Ed even meets on the 14th. This was pointed out by Assemblyman Jerry Green in a post on his blog yesterday afternoon (see here).

The Council's agenda session is slated for February 6, and a resolution could be adopted at the business meeting on February 13, in time for the deadline notice to the County of February 17.

Plainfield residents who have been frustrated by the statutory 'Chinese wall' between the City Council and the Board of Ed may have a chance to see the Council weigh in decisively for once on a matter of concern to the taxpayers.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is Plainfield School District gaming job postings?


Screenshot of online Ledger ad for Supervisors, dated January 24.
I have been told in the past that job openings in the Plainfield Public Schools are not always properly advertised before being filled.

In fact, one of the complaints against former schools superintendent Steve Gallon was that he hired people improperly.

The question comes to mind because of information on current openings that I received yesterday (January 25).

It is an online advertisement in the Star-Ledger for Supervisors in the content areas of Math and ELA (English Language Arts) -- see the ad here.

So, here's my question: The ad is dated January 24; the deadline for receipt of resum├ęs is January 25.

Does this mean the District is filling the position(s) from within and only going through a pro forma post of the job opening, trusting that no one will be able to meet the tight window of opportunity?


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Scary night at the Board of Ed

Plainfield's Board of Ed met in special session Tuesday evening, and I was most interested in Interim Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles' expected presentation on 'school reconfiguration'.

Her presentation, actually titled 'Grade Span Configuration' dealt with the shuffling around needed to accommodate the expected growth in 2012-13 student population. It called to mind the old nursery rhyme, 'There was an old woman who lived in a shoe' (see here).

Belin-Pyles highlighted items that have been a matter of concern for some time now: under-utilization of the middle school buildings (Maxson and Hubbard) and overcrowding in the elementary school buildings.

Without directly saying so, the shuffling that Belin-Pyles contemplates seems to undo the move of a couple years ago to expand the elementary schools' grade ranges and to eliminate the middle schools.

I am sympathetic to the move to dispense with middle schools, but it seems that not enough thought was initially given to planning this out in the Plainfield district, hence finding ourselves at the drawing board once again in a short period of time.

Enrollment prediction is not an exact science as any school administrator will tell you (a Google search turned up 859 results for that search term -- see here). But one thing is clear from Ms. Belin-Pyles' presentation: there is sharp pressure on the student population from the increasing enrollments at the Kindergarten and First Grade level.

Questions at the end of the presentation highlighted that the report does not, in fact, examine the entire school situation -- Plainfield High School, PAAAS and the Barack Obama High School were left out.

It dawned on me that a more accurate overall picture is of a school district stretched to the limits of its physical space. Moving kids back into the middle school buildings does not answer the long-term implications of continued sharp growth at the entry points -- Kindergarten and First Grade.

And if one considers that the Charter schools have drawn about a thousand kids out of the student pool for the District's buildings, it seems clear that the District is being faced with urgent construction needs, whether for new buildings entirely or the expansion of existing ones.

And the probability that the taxpayers are going to have to look at some serious construction costs in the next few years
makes the failure of the Schools Development Authority to fund any Plainfield projects flagrant to the point of criminality.

While I think a lot of consultants are just boondoggles, this would be one case where I think it would be justifiable to hire a consultant to examine the district's growth prospects, building capacities and alternate plans of configuration and help draw up a long-range plan.

It was a scary evening at the School Board.

FOOTNOTE: The use of the High School's 1300-seat auditorium for meetings with attendance of about 20-30 (besides the Board) still strikes me as bizarre and unfriendly toward the public. The lighting is atrocious, with the board in partial shadow, and the audience in the glare of lights reminiscent of a film noir police interrogation. The sound is uneven, with some board members not using the mikes well. The High School Library is much more conducive to being seen and heard, both the board and the public. Unless, of course, that is not the point.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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North Avenue merchants: We're back!


Following the complete boarding up of the burned out building...

...North Avenue was open to traffic by 5:00 PM.
 
Plainfield's North Avenue merchants heaved a collective sigh of relief Tuesday when the street was finally opened to traffic after being closed more than five  weeks following a suspicious December 17 fire that gutted an historic commercial building.

Part of the confusion has arisen from the fact that the owner of the building lives in California and communications have been somewhat garbled.

Merchants were finally told at a meeting with DPWUD Director Eric Jackson and Oscar Turk, head of Inspections, that the street could be opened once the burned-out building was boarded up.

Mike Ramos, whose mother's Ambate├▒ita Bakery was displaced by the fire, quickly organized a crew, rented a Home Depot truck and had the building boarded up by mid-afternoon.

By five o'clock the police barricades were gone and half a dozen vehicles were parked in front of businesses.

The Hollywood Barber Shop was humming and lights were on in Mi Buenaventura as preparations were made to reopen the restaurant.

There has been no official word about the blaze, which Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig deemed 'highly suspicious' in remarks to the Council. Hellwig advised the Council that he had closed the street for safety reasons and stationed police on a 24/7 basis. (I have since been told that the cost to the taxpayers has been in excess of $16,000 per week. Hellwig said the City would go after the property owner for the city's costs.)

Merchants, however, have their own suspicions, noting that one restaurateur was never interviewed despite being present in their premises when the fire broke out.

And then there is the matter of pressure to sell out to a developer.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cooke column on Jerry Green shows Courier is Gannett stepchild


Online version put up day and a half after print version.
If Plainfield readers needed yet another proof the Courier News is a neglected stepchild of Gannett's New Jersey operations, Sunday's Jay Jefferson Cooke column provides yet another example.

Titled 'Hey Jerry, if you need to talk, I'm here' (see online here), it was addressed to Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green and gave some insights into the legislator's relationship with the columnist.

Problem is that the column was available in the Courier PRINT EDITION when I picked it up at 5:15 AM on Sunday.

The online version has a time stamp of 6:16 PM Monday, a day and a half after the print edition was out.

Sadly, this has become par for the course now that Gannett's website is maintained out of its Neptune location.

Whether the Courier gets short shrift because the Neptune folks don't care about it or because they are understaffed and overstretched, the result is the same: online Courier readers get some of the news that's fit to print, some of the time on time.

Like the old saying goes, 'It doesn't matter whether the jug hits the rock or the rock hits the jug, it's the jug that suffers'.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Is it time to bring back Plainfield Township?


Wrong choice of words.
Is it time to bring back Plainfield Township? Council President Adrian Mapp's reorganization meeting remarks highlighted an interest in seeing 2012 explore shared services more seriously.

That put me in mind of another discussion taking place statewide: consolidation of New Jersey's many municipalities. In fact, Princeton Boro and Princeton Township will be merging, following a successful referendum this past November.

While writing up yesterday's post on the new Plainfield website, I noticed (yet again) the annoyingly inaccurate 'established 1869' slug on the current City website.

'Established' just seems the wrong word. Plainfield was settled in 1685. Over the years it was an unincorporated village with many names. In 1869, it was incorporated as a City -- out of Plainfield Township (see the Wikipedia article here).

What was Plainfield Township?

Back in December, the Ledger ran a brief item on a discussion about merging Scotch Plains and Fanwood, which have shared a school district for decades (see story here).


1872 map shows some of Plainfield Township.
Turns out that Plainfield Township encompassed what is now Plainfield City plus Scotch Plains and the subsequently carved-out Fanwood.

Is it time to bring back the old Plainfield Township?

Think of the possibilities.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Plainfield's 'mystery' website? Not really.


Welcome screen of the new city website has clean, inviting look.
Does Plainfield have a 'mystery' website? Not really, despite an anonymous comment on Plainfield Today this past week that suggested one.

What Plainfield does have is a new website that has been under development by IT Director Chris Payne, and about which he has spoken before the Council on several occasions. You can see the 'front' of the new website here.

It is part of a general overhaul, including not only a '.gov' domain name, but a makeover of the email system, with new '.gov' emails for employees and elected officials. Plainfield must begin to take into account court rulings requiring that government officials use their officially provided email accounts for the conduct of city business, so that they can be archived in one place and it is easier to see that the 'Sunshine' law is not being broken.

The new website will also -- hopefully, since no one outside Mayor Robinson-Briggs' inner circle has seen it -- be more rationally organized and include state-required data such as budget documents.

In an editorial on Saturday (see here), the Courier pointed out that local governments have been required for nearly a year now to have the current operating budget and those of the past three years online.

I was unable to find the mandated documents on Plainfield's current official website in expected or unexpected places. (I did note, though, that 'Audit and Control' does not even appear among the divisions under the Department of Administration and Finance.)

Best practices in website design involve having test groups involving potential end users throughout the development process to avoid the unpleasant surprises that can come when a well-intentioned site goes public without any prior review (see usabililty guru Jakob Nielsen on 'thinking aloud', the No. 1 usability tool here). To my knowledge, this has not happened with the site under development. Will there be anything to embarrass Mayor Robinson-Briggs? We shall have to see when we get our first peeks.

Howto.gov is a great resource for best practices in developing a government website (see here), and Fast Company magazine has done a 'best and worst' slideshow (see the latest here).




Welcome page for Danville, VA (pop. 43,055).
The Center for Digital Government has annual website achievement awards (see here) and among its 2011 outstanding websites was that of Danville, VA (pop. 43.055) -- see here.



Home page of West Hollywood, CA (pop. 34,399).
The Web Marketing Association (see here) also reviews websites annually and gave the City of West Hollywood, CA (pop. 34,399) a 2010 award -- see here.

Both of these cities are smaller than Plainfield and show what can be done in communities with modest resources.

Meanwhile, Plainfielders await, breathlessly.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Plainfield artist Indira Bailey featured in Black History exhibit


'Nani and Joe', Ms.Bailey's grandmother and her cat Joe (more here).
 
Plainfield artist Indira Bailey is featured in an exhibit celebrating Black History at Scotch Plains' South Avenue Gallery.

Indira, who recently won a Fulbright fellowship to study in Morocco, is a longtime participant in the Plainfield art scene and serves on the city's Cultural and Heritage Commission.

The show runs from January 20 through March 29, with a reception this Wednesday, January 25, from 5:00 to 8:00 PM.

The South Avenue Gallery is at 2279 South Avenue in Scotch Plains (behind NJ Blood Services).

For more information, contact Indira at ibdesignstudio@yahoo.com. or visit her website at www.ibdesignstudio.com/.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Will Plainfield BOE go for November election, budget vote?


School Board elections may now be held in November.
 
Gov. Christie and the Legislature have made things interesting for the Plainfield Board of Education.

Effective immediately and simply by adopting a resolution, the Board of Ed can move the school election and budget vote to the November general election date, under the terms of a bill signed into law on Tuesday by Gov. Chris Christie (see here). Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green was a sponsor of the bill.

The one gotcha is that the date can only be switched if the next proposed budget stays within the state's 2% cap.

In one fell swoop the longstanding complaint that school boards are elected by a tiny minority of eligible voters would be erased -- especially in a year when President Obama is standing for re-election and a huge turnout is guaranteed.

Four Board of Ed seats will be up whether the election takes place on April 17 or November 6. Three-year terms for Keisha Edwards (who is filling out the term of Pat Barksdale, who resigned), Brenda Gilbert and Lisa Logan Leach are up this year. The fourth seat is left open by the forced resignation of Rasheed Abdul-Haqq under a draconian new law sponsored by Assemblyman Jerry Green.

Though the Board solicited public interest in filling Abdul-Haqq's seat, and scheduled interviews for this past Tuesday, no decision to appoint someone to the vacancy has been made public yet. Such an appointee would serve until the 2012 election (see NJ law on vacancies here), and could run for a full term as an 'incumbent' even if length of service is measured in weeks and not years.

Moving the election and budget vote to November has the attraction of taking away the uncertainty about outcomes on budget voting by eliminating completely the vote on a budget that is within the state cap.

Plainfield voters last defeated the school budget for 2010-11, throwing the resolution into the laps of the City Council.

Such a scenario would disappear if the election is moved to November (providing it is kept under the cap).

Moving the election to November would involve a commitment of four years, after which the Board of Ed could move back to April if it wished by a simple resolution.

However, during the four years for a November election, if a budget were submitted above the cap, it would run as a standalone public question with no mechanism for review in case of defeat. A defeat would be a defeat, period.

Whether or not expiring non-Grand Slam members choose to run again, Grand Slam member Alex Edache made it clear at last year's reorganization that the Grand Slam folks mean to mount another slate for 2012. I haven't heard a word about any interest, meaning perhaps the Grand Slam folks will be uncontested.

The more time passes, the more golden the days under Dr. Larry Leverett appear -- both in Board transparency and in his and the Board's genuinely welcoming embrace of all stakeholders.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

5 weeks after fire, North Avenue still shut, merchants in dark


December 17, 2011, fire gutted North Avenue Historic District building.
Friday marks the end of five weeks since a suspicious fire gutted a commercial building in Plainfield's North Avenue Historic District.

Though some damaged brickwork at the northeast rear corner of the building was knocked down on Tuesday, no other activity has been spotted and North Avenue remained blocked off as of 5:00 AM today when I went out for the papers.

Plainfield taxpayers have been footing the bill for 24/7 police surveillance of the area since the fire -- at OVERTIME rates.

Merchants, who are still in the dark about the City's plans -- or even if there are any plans -- are becoming increasingly restive as their businesses continue to suffer from precipitous declines in patronage.

Contrast the treatment of the North Avenue merchants with the city's solicitousness of South Avenue merchants regarding the South Avenue reconstruction project (see letter to businesses here, PDF).

What will the North Avenue merchants have to do to get the same level of service, sue the city?


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Despite Council reprimand of Mayor, PMUA resolution is more important



Despite the Plainfield City Council's resolution reprimanding Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs
at Tuesday's meeting, a new resolution on the agenda authorizing the PMUA to provide solid waste services to customers outside the City of Plainfield will prove more important over the long haul.

The unanimous reprimand of Mayor Robinson-Briggs for her conduct in the now-notorious funding of a $20,000 radio broadcast of an August 2010 town hall meeting was read aloud into the public record by Municipal Clerk Jalloh on the instruction of Council President Adrian Mapp. All on tape for broadcast over the City's cable channels. (Olddoc has helpfully posted the entire resolution on his blog, see here.)

The report on the WBLS funding investigation will now be forwarded to the Attorney General, the Union County Prosecutor and the Department of Community Affairs.

PMUA AT A CROSSROADS: REFORM OR RUIN?


The PMUA resolution (R 043-12) has been awaited ever since the interlocal services agreement setting up the local solid waste agency in 1997.

Councilor Williams expressed surprise that it had not been attended to before, but that is another -- and long -- story. Let it only be noted that in a little more than six months Duane Young, the PMUA's interim executive director, has gotten more done than the previous administration had in nearly fifteen years.

At last week's PMUA Board of Commissioners meeting Young made a pitch to be made the agency's permanent executive director, citing an impressive list of knotty problems solved in his short tenure, including negotiating a deal whereby the PMUA Trasfer Station on Rock Avenue can begin to process solid waste from surrounding communities.

Commissioners Mitchell, Brokaw and Toliver came out publicly in favor of his candidacy. Alternate Commissioner Sanders threw a Hail Mary pass, saying that since the discussion wasn't on the Board's agenda he was unprepared to make any comment or commitment.

Commissioner Dunn, however, had no hesitation in saying that he could not support Young 'at this time', going on to lecture him for several minutes on the reasons why.

Dunn's sharpest words concerned the fact that PMUA workers were organizing a union 'under the current administration [Young's]', and against which Dunn is adamantly opposed.

Dunn went so far as to say he hoped that Young had not given raises or performance bonuses to any union sympathizers.

Such anti-union attitudes are unheard of among Democrats, and caused raised eyebrows at the meeting.

Not to mention the possibility that the National Labor Relations Board would come a-knocking should such blatantly discriminatory practices be put into play.

Young kept an even demeanor but did not back down on his claims, despite Dunn's bullying demeanor.

Yet Dunn's interaction with Young was only a highlight of his behavior at the meeting. Throughout, Dunn engaged in digressions. At one point, after a motion had been seconded and Chairman Mitchell was about to call the vote, Dunn reopened the discussion, leading to some confusion about exactly where they were when Chairman Mitchell finally wrested back control and asked PMUA counsel Leslie London to read the resolution. Taken a bit by surprise, London asked if she hadn't already read it, to which the room responded with hearty laughter.

One longtime observer who happened to be at that night's meeting called me afterward to offer his take: the Dunn was putting pressure on Young in front of everyone present, in essence saying, 'you cut a deal with me or you don't get the job'. This observer continued, 'and we all know what that means -- jobs for friends and contracts for insiders'.

With Dunn evidently able to turn Commissioner Toliver's vote away from arbitration and toward a settlement with Watson and Ervin, the handwriting is on the wall.

The Council, which did not take up the mayor's nominations to the PMUA last night, would be wise to consider whether jumping in the fire of the mayor's new list of appointments is better than staying with the frying pan of the current board.

At any rate, the signs of reform and progress that had so recently bloomed -- and are exemplified in the resolution to authorize customers from outside Plainfield's borders -- look to be in danger of being rubbed out.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Google, Wikipedia in online protest of censorship bill today


Wikipedia and Google are among thousands of sites protesting an Internet
censorship bill today by either going dark or altering their design.
 
Plainfielders turning to Wikipedia today for research (or to settle a bar bet) will find the website has gone dark for 24 hours in protest of two online piracy bills under consideration by Congress that threaten the Internet as a haven of free speech and inquiry.

According to a story on the Huffington Post (see here), Wikipedia (see here) is but one of thousands of sites that have shuttered themselves in protest today.

Others, such as Google (see here), are participating by converting their design to one of gloom and foreboding for the day.

All participating sites are posting links to explain the dangers of the proposed legislation, and Wikipedia has a lookup-by-Zipcode to give online visitors links to contact their representatives in Washington (see here).

Big-money Hollywood film companies and music industry giants have been caught off guard by the protest, which throws a spotlight on the bills they quietly lobbied for -- and nearly pulled off without notice.

However, after the tech and Internet companies got involved, Congressional leaders quickly back-pedalled and President Obama (who counts on both sides for funds in his upcoming election struggle) has called for changes to the bills as proposed.

The Internet, as they say, has changed everything.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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