Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Monday, February 4, 2013

Proposed Administration-Council 'retreat' raises questions

Assemblyman Jerry Green, Mayor Al McWilliams and (partially hidden) Councilor
Al Hendricks at construction kickoff ceremony in Tepper's basement, Februarty 2001.
A tour of the Tepper's basement was promised for the 2010 'retreat'.
Among the discussion items on tonight's Plainfield City Council agenda are a proposal for an Administration-Council 'retreat'.

Retreats have become commonplace in corporate America, giving management and high level executives an opportunity to frame business strategy and tactics for the near- to mid-term.

(This may bring an ironic smile to those whose experience of 'retreats' has been in its classical form as a time of gathering together away from worldly busyness, with guided introspection and hopes for spiritual renewal.)

I recall two contrasting instances in Plainfield's civic life.

The first was a joint Council-Administration-Board of Ed retreat that occurred on a Saturday early in the Al McWilliams administration. The mood of the time was to open the political process in Plainfield up to public participation, an approach favored by both Mayor McWilliams and Schools Superintendent Larry Leverett.

The retreat was held in the PHS Library and the entire session was open to the public, which was given an opportunity to speak at the end of the meeting. The room was ideal for the meeting, with participants seated around tables formed into an open square, with the public seated around the periphery of the room, behind the participants.

This was during the period when over 500 residents and business people were meeting at Muhlenberg on a weekly basis to develop a strategic plan for Plainfield. Dr. Leverett had also encouraged the development of grassroots citizen planning teams to map out approaches to regaining state certification of the District. It was a period of both high citizen involvement and positive expectations throughout the community.

This earlier experience contrasted sharply with the most recent 'retreat', which was proposed by the Robinson-Briggs administration and eventually held on two weekday afternoons in late June 2010.

The initial meeting was convened on Monday, June 28, from 1:00 to 5:00 PM. Though Council President Annie McWilliams intended to have the entire session (held in City Hall Library) open to the public, the public was eventually excluded from the meeting after (then) Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson ruled that no public business was to be discussed, only 'interpersonal relations' -- presumably between Mayor Robinson-Briggs and the Council (see my post here).

Clearly unpleased with the exclusion of the public, Council President McWilliams extracted from Corporation Counsel Williamson a pledge that another meeting on Wednesday, June 30, would be entirely open to the public.

One of the expected highlights of that public meeting was to be a tour for the Council and the public of the Tepper's basement, on which the Robinson-Briggs administration had expended a $460,000 federal grant in the summer of 2007 to outfit the 17,000 square foot space dedicated in perpetuity to public use. Alas, Williamson thwarted that public tour, tap dancing his way through a number of excuses (also detailed in my post here).

So now we have another proposed 'retreat'.

The only question in my mind is which of the two styles we will be treated to? Will it be the open and transparent style or the closed, defensive and obfuscatory style?

You won't want to miss the Council and Administration's discussion of the proposed retreat at tonight's agenda-setting session, 7:30 PM in the Courthouse/Council Chambers, East 4th Street and Watchung Avenue.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bob said...

We're talking Shady Sharonda here. Guess which type of retreat it will be. The only thing open about Sharon has been spending public money on food to buy votes. She truly is the worst mayor we've had in the 30 years I've lived in this city.

Anonymous said...

What I do not understand is why the taxapayers are not allowed to see the building for which they are paying. Also, this town has more money than God.

There is no caring about the people who are suffering.

First 19K to pay for the mayor's lawyer (who by the way obviously had not intention of paying for the legal services. Isn't that fraud?

Then 100K for a concrete concession stand that can't get water.

Now, we will pay for them to party?

Does anyone know what fudciary responsiblity is? There are 4 members of the council who have no business being there. Shame on them, and shame on the wards who put them there. You are getting exactly what you deserve - you put no effort into making your area a better place, you get no effort in having your council members make your ward better. Is that what you really want?