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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Caribbean American heritage celebrated today

Caribbean Americans in Plainfield's July 4 Parade, 2001.
Caribbean American Heritage Foundation will host a celebration of the foods, music and culture of the city's Caribbean-American residents today at Cedar Brook Park from Noon to 4:00 PM.

Democratic mayoral nominee Adrian Mapp notes this year's celebration will honor Canon Leroy Lyons, who recently retired after more than thirty years as rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, and Trevor Barrow, whose long service to the community includes helping many with immigration and citizenship paperwork, tax assistance and computer-related problems.

Trevor helped found the Garden State Cricket League, which has several teams using the cricket pitch adjacent to the Shakespeare Garden at Cedar Brook Park. On any given weekend afternoon from late spring to autumn, you can see a game or two in progress, with the players in their crisp white linen uniforms.

All are welcome.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

John Louise rules!

Corrected sign (at top), thanks to Public Works
Superintendent John Louise.

Plainfield's Superintendent of Public Works John Louise rules!

John got on the horn with the County authorities, who had 'improved' the street signs along Park Avenue (which is a county highway, Route 531) by giving a new spelling for 'Stelle Ave'.  Stelle is one of the early settler family names of the Plainfield area.

The corrected sign is up for the world to see.

Sadly, in my view, the new signs also reflect the national trend toward standardizing everything about roadway signage: size, color and orthography.

The new signs look to me like they could be in the new 'Clearview' typeface (see here), which is gradually replacing the older 'Highway Gothic' (see here) which was developed during World War II and initially used for traffic signage at the Pentagon.

Where many municipalities (including Plainfield) used an older orthography of black letters in all caps on a white background (which can still be found if you look hard enough), this is now falling out of favor and being replaced with the FHWA white letters on a green background in upper and lower case, along with standardized abbreviations (see here, for example).

While the signage is truly legible and no doubt beneficial on roads where one is driving at 55-60 mph, using it on local streets seems to me to be taking the charm (think of Cranford, where the signs are vertical concrete columns with the letters set out in blue ceramic tiles) out of our communities, and making them all cookie-cutter style.

Older style sign in all caps. Even older signs in Plainfield
can be found with black letters on white background.

Whether or not you think highway signage is going to Hell in a handbasket, we all owe John Louise a debt of gratitude in making sure that street names are correctly spelt.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sharon, Campbell back move to convert Abbott Manor to vets housing

The Abbott Manor Nursing Home as it appeared in 2007.

The Abbott Manor in 2013, with rotted porch fascia.

Plastic sheeting on 3rd floor dormers, June 2013.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and John Campbell Jr, Republican candidate for Assembly in Plainfield's 22nd District, gave their backing to the move by real estate investor Andre Yates to convert the old Abbott Manor nursing home property on Central Avenue to veterans housing.

They spoke at a fundraiser breakfast held at the Plainfield Senior Center this past Saturday to raise money for The Yates House for Military Veterans Inc., according to a report in The Alternative Press (see here). Leaving aside the propriety of using City premises to fundraise for a private venture, the idea raises plenty of questions.

Yates quietly purchased the nursing home property in July 2012 from Reynaldo and Maria Lapid for $100,000 according to property tax records. He additionally purchased the vacant lot abutting the rear of the Abbott Manor that gives access to West 8th Street behind the corner two-family home.

Robinson-Briggs repeatedly mentioned her concern for veterans in her campaign literature, though I cannot find any explicit mention of the Abbott Manor property in my archives.

During the campaign season, I noticed that the property had deteriorated in the years it has lain vacant. There was plastic taped over the 3rd-floor dormers, evidently to prevent water intrusion, and the porch fascia was rotted away. The yard was overgrown.

Then, a week or so before the Democratic Primary election, the grass had suddenly been cut and a 'Re-elect Sharon' sign plunked prominently in the front yard. Was there some sort of connection?

Front yard cleaned up to showcase 'Re-Elect Sharon' sign.

As far as I can determine, Yates has not approached the Historic Preservation Commission or the Zoning Board about a proposed use for the Abbott Manor property.

Though the previous owner had secured approvals from the Historic Preservation Commission to replace the roof and repair the porch, the work has never been done. The approvals are carried to the new owner for a period up to two years (and may be renewed by the HPC), conditioned on the work being performed as agreed.

Further questions are what sort of living arrangements are being proposed for veterans at the property, and what plans -- if any -- there are for the use of the small vacant lot.

Readers will remember that the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District fought the 60-bed expansion of the old Abbott Manor Nursing Home, winning a notable victory in 2007 (see my post on their victory in court here). The VWB Historic District was represented in the case by attorney (and Plainfield resident) William Michelson.

As I pointed out in my post, two aspects of that case may be determinative of future litigation in historic districts finding themselves in similar circumstances --

  • First, as pointed out by Michelson previously, a New Jersey court has declared the validity and importance of historic districts, and described what their effect should be on land-use applications; and
  • Secondly, that the court went further than Michelson did on one point: that an "inherently beneficial" use may cease to be so, at the wrong location.
Excerpts from Michelson's summary of the Abbott Manor ruling can be found online here.

According to Guidestar, which tracks nonprofits granted 501(c)(3) status, the Yates House for Military Veterans, Inc. was just given its IRS designation in 2013, hence no 990s (financial information) forms have yet been filed (see here).

While there has been some discussion in the media in recent months about the need to shelter homeless veterans, two things remain to be made clear in relation to the Yates project --

  1. What classes of veterans is Yates House proposing to provide housing for -- for instance, disabled, those diagnosed with PTSD, homeless, substance abuse victims, etc.?

  2. What research has been done to identify such veterans who are residents of Union County and what, if any, programs are currently serving this population?
Even though providing such housing may be judged a 'beneficial use', a hard look should be taken at the expected viability of such a project based upon financial support it has lined up (including grants and government funding, if any).

My first question would be, why haven't any repairs been made to the fabric of the Abbott Manor property in the year since Yates took ownership?

Is it because he doesn't want to do the work as required by the granted approvals? Is it because he doesn't have the financial resources to do it without outside help?

If the fundraiser supported by Mayor Robinson-Briggs and GOP Assembly candidate John Campbell Jr. is the main form of financial support that is being sought, this is not a good omen for the project.

Then, of course, there is the matter of taking the property off the tax rolls, which a nonprofit operating housing would do. As things stand now, $37,751.60 in property taxes were paid in 2012.

I am sure we will hear more as things move along.

Wave of downtown breakins spotlights lack of surveillance

One block of downtown businesses has since 13 breakins.
A wave of 13 breakins in Plainfield's
downtown business district since June 6 has merchants jittery. I have been told that all of them occurred in the single block of East Front Street between Park and Watchung Avenues.

Though I have not heard that cash or goods were taken and most merchants have alarm systems, I am told by sources that the quality of surveillance video from merchants' devices is not very good on account of low light conditions.

These recent incidents throw a spotlight on the long-promised yet undelivered surveillance camera system for the downtown business district.

In the second term of Al McWilliams, conduit suitable for fiberglass and other communications -- including cable for a surveillance cam system -- was laid throughout the downtown shopping area as part of the streetscape redesign project.

Since the earliest days of the Robinson-Briggs administration, both Robinson-Briggs and Pubic Safety Director Martin Hellwig have promised that the city 'is working on' the surveillance cameras project.

At one point, Hellwig and Robinson-Briggs touted the outfitting of the Teppers basement as making it possible to locate a CCTV system there, but that plan came to naught.

Of late, there has been talk of locating the surveillance system in the basement of the police station but nothing more has been heard of that idea for months.

With only a few months remaining in Robinson-Briggs' final term, one wonders whether the merchants will get any relief in the matter or whether it will fall to a new administration in 2014 to finish the long-awaited system.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Wednesday, June 26, 2013

    State rips BOE legal fees; how was firm chosen?

    Plainfield's Board of Education was ripped in a NJ Comptroller's report released late yesterday afternoon for spending nearly double the state average on its lawyers. In addition, Mark Spivey has a long piece on this somewhat involved story in today's Courier (see here).

    I will be taking up the question of how the firm at the eye of the storm got the Plainfield Board of Ed contract in the first place.

    But...after I get back from a doctor's appointment.

    Check back later.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    UC TEAMS graduates its first high school seniors

    Plainfield's Union County TEAMS Charter School, housed at Shiloh Baptist Church, will graduate its first high school senior class tomorrow (Wednesday) evening.

    Here is a press release from the school on the event --

    Union County Technology Engineering Architecture Mathematics and Science (UC TEAMS) Charter School will celebrate its inaugural high school graduation ceremony on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 6pm at Shiloh Baptist Church, 515-517 West 4th St., Plainfield, NJ.  The eighteen members of the school’s first senior class will be joined by their families, their teachers, and community members as they receive their diplomas.  The ceremony will feature an address by keynote speaker Leslie Anderson, Executive Director of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority.  Ms. Anderson, a Plainfield resident, is the first African American woman to head an independent financing authority in the state of New Jersey.  Class of 2013 valedictorian Chinedom Ehiobuche and salutatorian Danielle Tucker will also share their remarks.  Special awards and honors to be presented include the Community Service Award, Leadership Award, Union County College Bridge Program Award, and “Beating the Odds” Award.

    The graduation ceremony will be the culminating event in a series of milestone activities for the seniors.  Earlier in June the students completed an exit interview and portfolio presentation before a 10-member panel.  On the morning of their graduation, the members of the Class of 2013 will take their final walk through the hallways of the school.  As they pass by each classroom and office, they will be cheered by their fellow students and the school staff.

    UC TEAMS Executive Director Sheila Thorpe spoke fondly of the seniors:  “This first graduating class is 'One of a Kind' in that they have done what few others have  by accumulating college credits while completing  high school coursework  at the same time.  This experience has stretched their imaginations, their dreams and challenged their abilities.   While not an easy path, they have endured and through this refining process, it ultimately has taught them courage in the face of fear.  No matter where they go or what they decide to do, they will have the experience of knowing they can.”
    After graduation the seniors will be pursuing many different fields, such as biological science, business, communications, fine arts, graphic design, pre-medical, and social work.  They will be moving on to a variety of different schools, including Rutgers University, Cheney University, North Carolina A&T University, Middlesex County College, Union County College, Sanford Brown Institute, and Vaughan College of Aeronautics and Technology.

    In fulfilling their requirements for graduation, the seniors at UC TEAMS completed a course curriculum that highlights the use of technology and emphasizes community service.  Students participated in job shadowing programs at Best Buy and Deloitte and Touche.  They volunteered their time tutoring elementary school students in financial literacy with the Junior Achievement program, and they have participated in the Breast Cancer Awareness Walk , as well as several food drives and blood drives.  Additionally, through the Bridge Program of Union County College, these high school seniors earned college course credits before graduating high school.

    Members of the UC TEAMS chapter of the National Honors Society will be assisting as marshals at the graduation.  The Middle School Chorus will perform musical selections during the ceremony.  Scholarships will be presented by UCTEAMS’ partners in education:  Shiloh Baptist Church and Reverend Gerald Lamont Thomas, PhD., Turner Construction, Inc., and SHEELD, Inc.  These scholarships will be awarded to students who have excelled in academics and are entering the fields of math, science, and graphic design.

    For additional information on the UC TEAMS Charter School’s Inaugural High School Graduation, contact Ms. Joi R. Bethea at (908) 754-9043.

    About UC TEAMS Charter School:
    The Union County TEAMS Charter School for Technology, Engineering, Architecture, Mathematics and Science is a small learning community where all students achieve high academic standards by using the built environment as a learning laboratory. Students will gain the tools and confidence necessary for successful high school experiences, post-secondary education, and the world of work; will interact with professionals in the construction community, and will manifest by their experiential learning, “We Are Community Builders".
    Congratulations to the graduating seniors and to the staff and families who had the vision of a successful small school preparing Plainfield youngsters for the challenges of citizenship in the 21st century.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Tuesday, June 25, 2013

    About those 'secret' political contributions

    Hmmmm... Woodrow Wilson on the $100,000 bill.
    How New Jersey is that?
    Plainfield readers of Sunday's Star-Ledger had
    an opportunity to see the inner workings of pay-to-play by way of a major story filed by reporter Christopher Baxter on how the Birdsall engineering firm practiced the dark art (see story here).

    The story was supplemented by an update that included a list of contracts Birdsall received between 2008 and early 2012, which I found practically useless (for that list, see here). To begin with, it was a large document (with nearly 2,000 pages) and appeared to have been taken from a poorly formatted Excel spreadsheet in which much data was represented by 'xxx' which indicates to anyone who has ever used Excel that the column is too narrow to represent the data it contains.

    I noted that the list of contributions had a column headed 'C/S', which a note explained means 'corporate' or 'secret'. The gist of the story is that 'secret' contributions were those made by an employee with a personal check and later secretly reimbursed to the employee by Birdsall.

    There is no way of knowing whether the recipient(s) understood this process -- though one has to wonder when the amounts run into the thousands of dollars -- and that is point of view taken in a Courier story digging into the topic today (see here).

    For those who have followed Plainfield Today's coverage of pay-to-play, I pointed out this mechanism way back in 2010 --

    ...non-cash contributions up to $300 are exempted from the requirement that the donor's name, address and employer be reported.

    The way many vendors get around the pay-to-play restriction is to have spouses, relatives, in-laws, employees and other make contributions to the $300 limit, meaning that the donor information will not have to be reported.

    These contributions are often 'bundled' into one envelope presented to the candidate together, just so the candidate should understand exactly how much money has been generated by the vendor (see original post here).
    As the Courier story points out, Birdsall lavished contributions to Middlesex County pols -- $189,000 in contributions between 2008 and 2012, of which only $14,400 was 'secret' donations. Birdsall netted $4.3 million in county contracts over the same period.

    In North Plainfield, $2,075 in donations was received, $1,525 of it 'secret'; and Birdsall had contracts totaling $558,000.

    Checking for contributions in Plainfield, results were pretty skimpy: it appears a $300 contribution was made to Adrian Mapp's campaign in 2011, and a single ticket was purchased for Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs inaugural ball in 2010. Both are marked 'secret' by the Ledger, meaning that Birdsall evidently reimbursed the donor at some later point.

    I did not find any Plainfield contract for Birdsall in the (wretched) document that the Ledger put online. This can probably be accounted for by the fact that since Robinson-Briggs has been in office, the city's engineering firm has been Remington & Vernick and not Birdsall.

    In 2011, in the face of much opposition from Mayor Robinson-Briggs, the Council passed a series of four model 'pay-to-play' ordinances drawn up by Citizen Action, the good-government group.

    Here is an outline of the ordinances and the practices they deal with --

        1) Ordinance MC 2011-10: Competitive Negotiations for Professional Services -- Currently towns have two options for hiring professionals, the "fair and open" process or the "non fair and open" process, under both systems the city has broad discretion in selecting its professionals. The ordinance would require the municipality to obtain detailed proposal from professionals competitively, giving the city the ability to compare firm's services and rates and to expand the pool of potential firms. For more information about why the fair and open process is ineffective, read the State Comptroller's report:

        2) Ordinance MC 2011-11: Pay to Play Reform - Currently cities only have to use the fair and open or non-fair and open process for awarding government contracts, neither one effectively severs the link between campaign contributions and government contracts. The model ordinance will limit campaign contributions to candidates, parties, and PACs by business entities seeking government contracts.

        3) Ordinance MC 2011-12: Developer Disclosure Ordinance - Requires developers  to disclose their political contributions when applying for a major variance.

        4)  Ordinance MC 2011-13: 'Best Price' Insurance Purchasing -- Requires municipalities to seek competitive proposals for insurance coverage and hiring brokers. And it requires the municipality to hire the broker on a flat fee. Currently towns are not required to use a competitive process for obtaining insurance, and brokers are paid a commission by the insurance company. By hiring the broker directly, the municipality will eliminate any conflict of interest the broker may have and guarantee the broker is seeking the best coverage for the town.
    Having the ordinances on the books, however, does not mean the issues have disappeared, as witness the continuing struggle between the Council and the Robinson-Briggs administration over using the corrupt and broken 'fair and open' (non-public-bidding) process which the Robinson-Briggs administration so favors.

    So. what can be done?

    The California firm that bought the remains of Birdsall (after bankruptcy and forfeitures), Partner Engineering and Science of Torrance, California, says it will not engage in New Jersey's culture of pay-to-play.

    According to the firm's president, Joseph Derhake, 'We'll see how that goes'.

    We'll see how that goes.

    Monday, June 24, 2013

    Do two rumors make one fact? In Plainfield, maybe.

    The Magic 8-ball knows, but won't tell....
    Spottings of Plainfield
    Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs have been rare since her defeat in the June primary election, but rumors of what she's up to abound.

    One in particular is that Her Honor is supposedly putting together a 'layoff plan'.

    To anyone familiar with the workings of municipal government, this must sound odd because layoff plans are intimately tied up with the annual budget process.

    If the Administration projects economic difficulties for the upcoming year -- a shortfall in tax receipts, an increase in fixed costs that would bump the state's cap on annual tax increases -- one of its options is to propose a layoff plan.

    But the rules regarding such are quite strict. Such a plan would have to be submitted to the State and approved before it could be announced, then a timetable would have to be followed giving employees adequate notice and opportunity to 'bump' those with less seniority, and then finally a layoff would ensue after a specified period of time.

    The point being that there are checks and balances all along the way, and that layoff plans are not based on whim or spur-of-the-moment decisions. Nor, supposedly, to settle grudges with particular employees.

    Yet that is the brunt of the rumor: that Her Honor is planning to layoff employees who were not sufficiently (and demonstrably) supportive of her re-election campaign.

    Good luck with that, I thought; that's an idea that will go nowhere since the 2013 budget has already been adopted, without any layoff plan.

    Except that then I became aware of another rumor that could shed some light on the 'layoff' matter.

    Seems a former Recreation Division employee was said to be campaigning on behalf of Robinson-Briggs and is said to have told Recreation part-timers and seasonal help reluctant to support Robinson-Briggs that they would be let go if Robinson-Briggs won and the former employee was once again in the saddle.

    The kicker is supposed to be that one of those approached took the time to record the conversation. If true, that would certainly make for interesting listening.

    And it might just confirm the 'layoff' rumor as seasonal and part-time employees don't have any standing in what the State considers a true layoff plan.

    So, could two rumors equal one fact?

    In Plainfield, maybe.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Sunday, June 23, 2013

    Sign of the times?

    At top, well-known Plainfield 'shortcut' street as it recently appeared
    at Arlington Avenue and (below) at Park Avenue.

    drivers may be nonplussed to discover an old favorite renamed.

    Or is it?

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Saturday, June 22, 2013

    Maxwell Perkins' last child dies. Who?

    Max Perkins at work.
    Word came recently that Louise 'Peggy' Perkins King, born and raised in Plainfield, passed away at the age of 97.

    Who, you say?

    Peggy was the last surviving child
    of famed book editor Maxwell Perkins and his wife Louise Saunders Perkins.

    The name of Maxwell Perkins may not ring a bell with you, but it is him we have to thank for being able to pick up and read the books of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe.

    He also encouraged Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings develop what became her most successful book, The Yearling. He brought Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country to press, and persuaded James Jones to abandon the novel he was working on to develop what became From Here to Eternity.

    Maxwell Perkins' sister Frances married Archibald Cox, and they lived at 1010 Rahway Road. Their son Archibald, Jr., later became famous as the independent counsel in the Watergate investigation that brought down President Richard Nixon.

    The Perkins' and the Coxes had other connections to the Plainfield community, many of which Susan Frasier of the Plainfield Garden Club has tracked down.

    You can see some results of her research on the Garden Club's website --

    Some of their Plainfield Homes & Gardens:
      310 West 7th Street   
       502 West 7th Street   
       511 West 7th Street   
       648 West 8th Street   
       740 Carlton Avenue   
       1143 Evergreen Avenue   
       1130 Gresham Road   
       816 Madison Avenue   
       1010 Rahway Road   
       1737 Sleepy Hollow Lane   
       1415 Watchung Avenue   
       930 Woodland Avenue   

    I was taken by learning that Peggy King, who lived for many years in Alliance, Ohio, where her husband practiced, was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 60s and 70s.

    It truly is a small world.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Friday, June 21, 2013

    Together As One Scholarship Awards dinner Saturday

    Together As One Foundation honors its first class of
    Together As One Scholars Saturday evening.
    Now that hope is daring to raise its head once again in Plainfield, it is time to join with an organization which has been quietly going about its mission of providing scholarships for Plainfield youth who are going on to college after graduation.

    Plainfield's own 'Together As One Foundation' will honor its first group of six scholarship awardees at a dinner tomorrow evening, which is being hosted in an unusual Plainfield venue. The 2013 Together As One scholarship recipients are
    Chinedum Ehiobouche, Lionel Leach, Hampton Pringley, Michael Simmons Jr., Nigel Townsend, and Kcory Woltz.

    Together As One will also be presenting 'Village Hero' awards to some who have made outstanding contributions to the community. This year's Village Heroes include Councilor Rebecca Williams, who has been an enthusiastic supporter of Together As One since its inception; David T. Holmes, owner of 'It's A Wrap' (who is celebrated for his hospitality after SuperStorm Sandy in making his café a community center); Okang McBride, director of alumni relations at Fairleigh Dickinson University; and the Greater Union County chapter of Jack & Jill of America. Lawrence T. Hibbert, founder of BCT Partners will be the keynote speaker.

    Come out and celebrate this enterprise of hope and the young people and adults they are honoring. Plenty of good food, music and a great crowd to mingle with.

    The Awards Dinner is at 'It's A Wrap' Banquet Hall, 631 Park Avenue (the Masonic Building, entrance on 7th Street). Cocktails at 5:30 PM, Dinner and Program at 6:30 PM. Cost is $50/person, a portion of which is tax-deductible. Tickets may be purchased online by visiting the website here.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    Hope dares raise its head at 4th Ward Town Hall

    Plainfield's diversity is one of its strengths.

    Last night's Plainfield City Council Town Hall meeting at the Jefferson School was worlds apart in tone from the previous three, showing concerned residents engaged in the political process and looking forward with hope to a new day for Plainfield come January 1, 2014.

    (First, though, let me get a perennial beef off my chest. The former National Starch headquarters building, which now houses the Jefferson and PAAAS schools, was paying in the neighborhood of $400,000 per year in taxes when it was commandeered by the Schools Development Authority and summarily removed from the tax rolls. It was to be used temporarily as a 'swing' school for the relocation of various elementary schools while construction took them offline. According to a memorandum of understanding between the SDA and the City, the National Starch site was then to be relinquished, to return once again to the tax rolls. Mayor Robinson-Briggs has not uttered one word in her tenure about returning the property. I don't begrudge our youngsters a decent building, but isn't a deal a deal?)

    While the other Town Halls were primarily concerned with kvetches over constant neighborhood issues: speeding, police presence, drugs and other illegal activity, vacant and unsightly properties, street lights, and various Public Works issues, last night's was quite different in tone.

    Which shows the difference a few weeks can make, as the 4th Ward meeting was the only one of the four to be scheduled for after the June primary election.

    While there were complaints (a hole in the fence around the school which a neighbor says the District has made no moves to correct, loud parties and drinking, abandoned buildings that need to come down, drugs and illegal activities and a lack of police presence), there were also upbeat discussions of ideas for improving Plainfield.

    The audience listened attentively and at several points, various audience members added reinforcement and encouragement to the ideas of the speakers. Sometimes, the conversation became between audience members, causing Council President Bridget Rivers at one point to remind everyone to address the Council and save the sidebars for later.

    Which, indeed, is what attendees did.

    Several people alluded to their hopes that a new administration in January will mean more attention to their issues and to some of the positive ideas being presented.

    When, however, one of the members of the Youth Organization for Unity congratulated 'Mayor Mapp' on his victory, Councilor Cory Storch reminded the audience that while Mapp had won the Democratic primary, he still faces three opponents in the November election, and only after that election can we speak with assurance of who will be the next mayor.

    As I drove down West Front Street toward downtown after leaving the meeting, I chanced upon Olive Lynch bringing her horses back from an evening outing to be bedded down for the night.

    Hope is daring to raise its head once again in Plainfield!

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Wednesday, June 19, 2013

    Housing Authority summer camp needs help

    Because funding cuts leave its summer camp for young people underfunded, the Plainfield
    Housing Authority is looking for help from those who believe a summer day camp experience for the city's youngsters is important.

    A gift of $100 will fund eight weeks of camp for a Plainfield youngster.

    The day camp operates from 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM Monday through Friday at 543 West Third Street, beginning Monday, July 8th.

    The indoor program features a computer lab, drama and arts & crafts, a wood shop, reading and tutoring.

    Outdoor activities feature sports and outdoor games at the Hannah Atkins Park.

    The program provides breakfast, lunch and snacks to participants.

    A $100 gift will help sponsor a single child for the entire camp, but any amount will be useful.

    Checks can be made payable to Plainfield Housing Finance (memo: Summer Camp sponsorship) and sent to Housing Authority of Plainfield, Attn: L. Hurd, 543 West Third Street, Plainfield, NJ 07060.

    For more information, call (908) 769-6335 x641 or contact former Ward 4 Councilwoman Joann Hollis.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Ward 4 Town Hall tonight

    Bring your burning questions to tonight's final Town Hall.
    Plainfield City Council's final Town Hall meeting of its 2013 series will be held this evening at the Jefferson School, 1750 West Front Street (the former Social Security office) at 7:00 PM.

    Conceived as a means of getting input from residents and taxpayers on issues of concern to the community, the Town Halls have been invaluable as an opportunity for residents to speak out without the formal constraints that hold during regular Council meetings -- plus giving an opportunity for back-and-forth with Councilors.

    While they are held in each of the city's four wards, they are meant to be opportunities for anyone from the community to come out and share concerns at any (or all) of the meetings.
    In fact, each has had representation from all across the city, and the same is expected for this evening's meeting.

    Topics are whatever is on the mind of attendees, and almost always include property taxes, crime and policing, the PMUA, the responsiveness of city government and budget concerns.

    Tonight's Town Hall is the last for this year

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Tuesday, June 18, 2013

    The high cost of Sharon

    Dr. Jadwiga Warwas (r.), Plainfield's Health Officer, with Mayor Al
    McWilliams and Muhlenberg executive Fred Hipp in 2005
    'TopOff 3' bioterrorism exercise.
    Once again, Plainfield has learned the high cost of Sharon. City Council approved on Monday a resolution to pay the Municipal Excess Liability Residual Claim Fund $38,941.65 in the matter(s) of Jadwiga Warwas v. City of Plainfield.

    Dr. Warwas was Plainfield's Health Officer when Sharon became Mayor and almost at once there was friction between the two. Sharon took the side of employees who complained of harassment by Dr. Warwas, though that complaint was dismissed by a Municipal Court judge. Warwas claimed, among other things, that cash receipts had disappeared from the Health Division and no effort was made to get to the bottom of the matter or discipline the person(s) responsible.

    The whole episode puts the Robinson-Briggs administration in an unsavory light -- harassment, missing documents, obstruction of Warwas' ability to perform her duties.

    You can read about the initial complaint and Office of Administrative Law decision (see my post from 2007 here; the OAL ruling here).

    Though Administrative Law Judge Geraghty found that Warwas had fully disclosed her part-time employment at the time of her hiring (though the City 'lost' her resume), and concluded that she was not insubordinate, guilty of 'conduct unbecoming', nor of misconduct and ordered her reinstatement, the Merit System Board saw otherwise.

    Though they ruled Warwas part-time work was prohibited, the Board reinstated her with back pay and seniority, but with a fine equal to the amount earned while working from home.

    Dr. Warwas appealed in Federal Court (see that matter here), which did not find in her favor on either of two counts, asserting in one that she did not have standing, and in the other that no First Amendment harm was proven.

    However, the reiteration of the facts of the case by Judge Linares in his ruling reveals a pattern of duplicity and harassment by the Robinson-Briggs administration that is quite astounding. Not to mention potential conflicts of interest, especially concerning former Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, who had represented the (unsuccessful) employee complainants against Warwas in Municipal Court.

    In any event, the matter dropped out of sight until last night -- six years later -- at which time the taxpayers had to cough up the $38,941.46 as the City's co-insurance reimbursement to the fund.

    Thank God, in fewer than 200 days we will be free from a Mayor using the city government as a personal bludgeon to smite those with whom she does not see eye to eye.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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