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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cedar Brook Park site of fourth homicide

A man was found by Plainfield
police officers on a roadway in Cedar Brook Park around 3:30 AM Monday morning, I have been told.

Taken by EMTs to Robert Wood Johnson, it was later learned that he had suffered a head wound. It is not known if the victim lived in the area and was attacked while walking or if he was dumped from a passing vehicle.

His death later in the day Monday makes him Plainfield's fourth homicide victim of 2013.

More as information becomes available.

The homes facing the park form a quiet neighborhood.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Did the State bait and switch in liquor license 'auction'?

The Plainfield
liquor license formerly held by JC's Lounge on Richmond Street was auctioned last Friday morning, but not to the expected buyer. Did the State pull a 'bait and switch' on the auction process?

When I posted the story on Thursday, I was expecting the successful bidder to be Frank Cretella, who has several projects brewing in Plainfield and who has been openly shopping for a liquor license for some time. But someone else got the license. How?

When I read the state's announcement and terms, which had been forwarded by Municipal Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh, I pictured your normal auction where it is held openly and the auctioner keeps taking higher and higher bids until finally no one will bid up and the sale is made to the highest bidder to that point. That is called an 'English auction' or 'open ascending price auction' and is the most common form of auction.

That is not, however, the way it was conducted. Once present, the bidders learned that it was to be a 'Sealed first-price auction', in which each bidder was only allowed one bid, to be submitted in a sealed envelope. The auctioneer then opened the envelopes and the sale was made to the highest bidder. This is by far a less common type of auction, and you would think the State would have notified prospective bidders in its announcement of this basic rule.

I can find no such mention in the state's document (see above).

Did the State pull a 'bait and switch'? What do you think?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Robinson-Briggs hires Wynn back in Recreation

...and don't you forget it!
After quitting his post as Plainfield's Superintendent of Parks and Recreation under a cloud of suspicion just eleven months ago, word came over the weekend that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has put her finger in the eye of Plainfield taxpayers by re-hiring Dave Wynn on a so-called 'temporary' basis to resume his old job.

In a post at the time of Wynn's abrupt resignation (see here), I asked rhetorically '...[w]ill Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs put a responsible adult in place and undertake a thorough housecleaning of Parks and Recreation? It would be warranted, but I don't have high hopes.'

Score one for Dan the Prognosticator.

Having re-hired Wynn, Robinson-Briggs now faces some other questions that need to be answered.

First: How will he be paid? If there was no budgeting for a Director, where will Sharon find the money to pay him? (And if she does, she can be sure the UEZ staffers will be knocking on her door asking 'what about us?'

Then there's the question of WHEN Wynn puts in his time.

The news that said he had been hired also reported he has been seen going in and out of the Annex building late in the evening. To which the question is how and why?

A review of surveillance tapes should reveal if Wynn is indeed coming in late at night -- that is, if the tapes haven't been overwritten yet. How does he get in? If he does not have his own password, is he using someone else's? That would be a violation of security. Is he being let in by maintenance staff? If so, who gave permission -- or was permission even given?

Besides that, there is the question of WHY he would come in late at night? Is he ashamed to face his workmates? Does he have another, daytime job?

Some months ago, Mayor Robinson-Briggs is said to have issued a ukase barring employees from working past 5:00 PM. So, why would Wynn be exempt?

On the other hand, if he has outside employment whose hours conflict with the city's business hours, how did he get hired? Those with long memories will recall that Robinson-Briggs fired Health Officer Jadwiga Warwas, MD, over alleged outside employment (even though she disclosed it on her resumé, it was a couple of hours on her own computer at home at night, and it did not interfere with her daytime presence or performance).

Someone please remind the Mayor she can't keep two sets of rules, those for her friends and those for her 'non-friends'. Thank you.

Now that Sharon has made her move, the issues around Wynn's performance that so clouded his previous tenure are back on the table -- abuse of hiring authority, financial improprieties (including the possibility of fraud and theft), and a generally dismissive haughtiness toward the City Council and his superiors.

There is also another matter, into which I will now be looking. I had decided after Robinson-Briggs was defeated in the Primary not to pursue it, and instead to be 'Mister Nice Guy'.

That was because I thought (foolishly) that she would simply serve out her term without being destructive.

Silly me.

-- Dan Damon [follow]
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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Two choices for National Night Out

Johnny-come-lately notice on city website.

Plainfield's National Night Out celebration on Tuesday, August 6 will offer residents two options.

In the absence of any announced plans by the City (as I pointed out, the city had not made plans as of July 19 -- see here), Netherwood Heights Neighbors and FOSH organized a celebration with a BBQ and sent word around on July 23 to their mailing list.

Netherwood Neighbors sent their notice around on the 23rd.

On Friday, July 26, the City added a notice on its website that there would be a city-sponsored celebration. Both events will take place on Tuesday, August 6 at 6:30 PM.

The Netherwood Neighnbors/FOSH event will be at Leland Avenue Park (see more here) and the city's event will be at City Hall (see here).

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Basketball tournament, car show at PHS today

Monster car, bike and truck show today, along with
basketball tournament.
Plainfield's 17th Annual Gee Gee Brown Basketball Tournament continues today, along with a monster car, truck and bike show, all at Plainfield High School.

The basketball tournament got under way Friday and will continue through Sunday afternoon.

The car, bike and truck show is in the Kenyon Avenue parking lot and is free to the public (as is the tournament). There were already about 40 cars in place at 8:00 AM this morning when I checked.

Alas, no sign of any 'carnival' as mentioned on the giant posters scattered around town, but still great activities for a lazy summer Saturday.

Is there supposed to be a carnival?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Did you know Plainfield settled suit with former judge for $100K in 2012?

Former Municipal Court Judge Paulette Brown.

 Did you know that Plainfield settled a lawsuit brought by former municipal court judge Paulette Brown in her favor for $100,000 in January 2012?

According to a story by Sergio Bichao in today's Courier (see online here), the settlement with Plainfield (for the false warrant) and Fanwood (where Brown was arrested) was uncovered by open-records activist John Paff and detailed on his blog NJ Civil Settlements (see here) on Wednesday.

The court documents are online (see here, PDF), as posted by Paff.

Two questions come to mind immediately --

  1. Were Plainfielders informed of the settlement by Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson at the time it was made? Settlements almost always contain confidentiality clauses (as this one does), but does that mean that a settlement and its amount do not have to be revealed? A check of City Council agendas from January through April 2012 turns up no reference to a settlement. Are there others of which we know nothing?; and

  2. Secondly, the bench warrant in the matter that led to Brown's arrest evidently never should have been issued. Given that the Council is being asked to approve hiring a firm to chase down unpaid fines, I'm wondering how many lawsuits such as this one are lurking in Plainfield's future.
Bichao points out that Brown is affiliated with a prestigious Madison law firm and was nominated earlier this year to become president of the American Bar Association in 2015.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Liquor license auction Friday could spur downtown renewal

An opportunity to move up from a shot-and-a-beer culture?

The auction of a Plainfield liquor license today (correction: Friday) could have a lasting impact on economic development downtown Plainfield's transit-oriented district (TOD) centering on Plainfield's main train station.

The license at issue is that held by the estate of the owner of J.C.'s Lounge on Richmond Street near East Second. It is being auctioned by the state in Somerville this morning as property seized by the state's Division of Taxation. While licenses are tied to locations, it is possible to buy a license and have it relocated to another site. All it takes is patience and money.

Though the rules are complicated and strict, and require the kinds of money you and I may not have lying around (a minimum opening bid of $100,000, with 25% of the winning bid to be paid at the time of the auction), this opportunity is a godsend for the likes of developer Frank Cretella, who has big designs on downtown Plainfield. Several of the ideas he has pitched to local officials are predicated on having a classy bar and lounge as part of the deal -- one proposal was even to put a rooftop restaurant and cocktail lounge atop the old United National Bank building at 2nd and Park.

Cretella has many projects in various stages of development and has noticeably slowed down their progress in recent months, partly no doubt in anticipation of changes at City Hall in January.

However, one of the developer's biggest headaches has been getting a liquor license.

For those unfamiliar with the thinking behind TOD development, one of its main prongs is mixed-use (commercial and residential) development in the TOD area. The thought is that spiffy apartments near transportation hubs will attract young professionals (and, as it turns out, some empty-nesters) who are interested in a lively neighborhood scene without the hassles of the suburban lifestyle.

'Lively' is meant to include good restaurants, nice shops and plenty of entertainment options. Liquor licenses, which are scarce as hen's teeth under New Jersey law, are a hotly pursued commodity. Most towns have more licenses than currently allowed under state law, so the game becomes one of finding a 'pocket' license or a willing seller.

The whole process is complicated by local officials who sometimes let personal opinions about the consumption of alcohol or peeves about the expense of policing currently rowdy taverns cloud their vision of how to improve the community's economic position. As in Aesop's famous fable though, once the goose that lays the golden egg is gone, so too are the golden eggs.

Word in the street is that one bar owner has signaled a willingness to sell to Cretella -- for $800,000, which seems on the high side to many observers.

One advantage of having the public auction of a license is that it will yield a more realistic assessment of what the fair market value of a license really is, which is the capitalist way, is it not?

Let's see how this all turns out. It could be very interesting and quite beneficial for downtown.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Plainfield homeowners' net tax bill increases 26% under Christie

Under Chris Christie, Plainfielders' net property taxes have gone up 26.1%.
Plainfield homeowners' net property tax bill has increased an average of 26.1% under Chris Christie. In a study of statewide property tax changes between 2009 and 2012, that is where Plainfield registers, according to a study looking into Christie's re-election claims against 'Corzine Democrats' (see story here). The reason is that Christie has reduced the homeowners' rebate from an average of $1,020 in 2009 to an estimated average of $248 in 2012. The difference becomes the increase in the net property tax bill.

That amazing fact is one of many you can learn from the maps that are now easy to find on the freshly redesigned website of NJ Spotlight (see here).

NJ Spotlight is a website focused on New Jersey news from a policy perspective and includes among its founders Plainfielders Lee Keough and Tom Johnson.

The new design puts the vast resources in archived news stories, interactive maps and other data at a user's fingertips in an easy-to-use and navigate website design.

Among the other things you can learn about Plainfield from the site's maps are --

  • Middle and elementary school enrollment growth
  • High school SAT scores and spending patterns
  • NJ's veteran population
  • Housing vouchers
  • Daytime population growth (a measure of economic activity)
and much else.

Check out and bookmark this valuable website.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sharon's meddling casts pall over Plainfield Police Division

Police Memorial reminds us Division should be above meddling.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' constant meddling in the administration of the Police Division is casting a pall over the agency, leaving career law enforcement officials dismayed and disgruntled.

If there is one thing for sure, it is that Robinson-Briggs' politicization of the Police Division has severely damaged morale at all levels and promoted dissension by establishing a culture of 'winners' (those who get special treatment by sucking up to Her Honor) and 'losers' (everyone else).

Issues range from manipulation of the civil service system to promote favorites, to who gets gritty assignments (or not), and the doling out of overtime and special duty perks.

Sharon seems to have learned nothing after the exposure of her 'bodyguard' fraud of a few years ago, and continues to play favorites as if she is going to be Queen-of-the-hill forever.

Meanwhile, Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig came before the Charter Study Commission and talked a good game about how directors need to stand up to pressure from a Mayor to exercise favoritism, among other things. Too bad he is such a poor example of what he preaches.

Whoever becomes mayor in January 2014 will have their hands full addressing the morale of the Police Division. First and foremost will be establishing a system of fair and equitable dealing and making sure everyone abides by it. That implies putting a Director in place who will knock heads if necessary and making sure everyone both pitches in and toes the line.

Time for the gravy train to come to the end of the line.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Shooting last Friday

A Plainfield man was shot at and hit several times last Friday, I have just learned.

The incident happened on East Second Street and the victim, whose wounds were not life-threatening, was taken to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick.

It is not known whether the incident was gang- or drug-related or both.

More information as details emerge.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Free musical tribute to Woody Guthrie tonight

The music and life of Woody Guthrie will be celebrated tonight.
Plainfielders old enough to remember the young Bob Dylan or Joan Baez (I admit I am one) will recall that they saluted folksinger Woody Guthrie as their foundational influence.

Fans of Woody or folk music generally will have an opportunity tonight to enjoy a tribute concert featuring Woody's songs as presented by New Jersey-based folk singer Spook Handy in a free event at Cranford's Community Center, getting under way at 7:30 PM. You can learn more about Spook Handy on his website here.

A left-winger and labor supporter all his life, I first learned about Woody through the performances of Pete Seeger (at 94, Pete is himself a living legend).

Perhaps Woody's most famous song is 'This land is your land', which became a sort of youth anthem of the 1960s.

The performance is sponsored by the Friends of the Cranford Public Library and is free to all.

Cranford's Community Center is at 220 Walnut Avenue, two blocks south of South Avenue East. Parking on site and on the street.

If you go, be sure to check out the building. It was constructed as Plainfield was planning a new Senior Center and several staff went down for a look-see when it was opened. It functions as both a center for Senior Citizens and a Youth Center and is cleverly laid out so that the seniors and the young people's recreation areas are not next to each other. It also provides meeting rooms for community groups and is a very welcoming space.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

City pools are open; cooling centers, who knows?

Hannah Atkins and other city pools are waiting for you!

Thanks to a post on Plainfield Councilor Rebecca Williams' blog (see here), residents can find a schedule for the city's pools, which are open to all regardless of age or neighborhood.

The city pools are open Monday through Saturday from Noon to 7 PM and Sunday from Noon to 6 PM. Monday through Friday the pools are reserved from 10 AM to Noon for participants in the Recreation Division's summer camp.

Plainfield's three pools are --

Hannah Atkins
West 3rd Street and Plainfield Avenue

Rushmore Playground
West 3rd Street at Rushmore Avenue

Seidler Field
North Avenue at Netherwood Avenue
Meanwhile, though rain Saturday evening brought some relief from high temperatures and humidity, you still cannot find any word on the City's website (or anyplace else) about cooling centers.

Plainfield, like other communities in Union County belongs to the FirstAlert system by which residents can sign up for text message notifications.

Here is a sample of Fanwood's emergency heat notice sent to me by a reader --

Date: July 20, 2013, 9:16:52 AM EDT
Subject: #E5A  Important message from UCFirstAlert
Heat advisory: Check on elderly neighbors, stay hydrated & go to Chelsea Cooling Station if needed. Chief Trigo

Sent by Pat Hoynes to Fanwood, Fanwood Live, Fanwood Work, Fanwood Administration, Fanwood DPW, Fanwood Employees, Fanwood FD, Fanwood OEM, Fanwood PD (e-mail accounts, pagers, Cell phones) through UC First Alert
... powered by Cooper Notification's Roam Secure Alert Network
You received this message because you registered on UC First Alert.  To change your alerting preferences go to

Tell a friend/co-worker about UC First Alert! Forward this message to them and have them register for this free service at
I just don't understand what is so freaking hard about supplying information to the residents of Plainfield. It can't be any harder than making sure everyone knows when Mayor Sharon is making an appearance somewhere.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

du Cret students show at Swain's opens today

Some of the artists in this summer's show.

Twenty-nine award winning students from duCret School of Art will be honored at the opening today at Swain's of the annual juried awards art show.

The students will present works in a variety of media, including oils, watercolors, jewelry, stained glass, photography and multi-media. Among the winners are three students from Plainfield: Etelka McMillan, Cathleen Nardo and Ally Washington.

The opening reception is this afteroon from 5:00 - 7:00 PM and the exhibit runs through August 24 and can be seen any time during Swain Galleries regular hours.

Swain Galleries, celebrating 144 years of serving Plainfield's art, gift and framing needs, is at 703 Watchung Avenue at the corner of East 7th Street (across from Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church), with plenty of onsite parking.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, July 19, 2013

City's website a fount of non-information. Thanks, Sharon!

Screenshot from City of Plainfield website.
There was no mention of Plainfield in NJ Today's story yesterday on cooling centers in Union County and that led me to check the city's website.

While there are some tips about dealing with the heat, there is no mention of where to go or what to do if you don't have air conditioning.

Nor is there (yet) any mention that the city's swimming pools are open or what the schedule is since it appears there is a shortage of lifeguards -- still.

Meanwhile, notices about last night's Plainwood Square concert and car show seem to have been thrown up at the last possible minute.

The concert attendance was way down -- I would say half its usual attendance -- probably partly due to the weather (it was still 95° at 7 PM), but perhaps also due to the city's lack of publicity.

The car show appeared to have fewer than a dozen entries and no attendees when I went by. First of all, it was out of sight over behind the old Blockbuster store, and secondly the lot was totally barricaded so you would have had to park at C-Town and walk over.

With National Night Out due in just over two weeks (August 6), a check with the Clerk's office reveals that no paperwork has been filed as of today. This is a program in which Plainfield has participated for more than a quarter century.

Has Sharon lost all interest in Plainfield?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Plainfield double-header: Liquor license hearing, YOU vigil

Violations galore at West End liquor store.

Plainfielders had a double-header Wednesday evening with a special meeting of the City Council to hear a liquor license matter and a candlelight vigil sponsored by the youth group Y.O.U. Fortunately, both events took place at City Hall, so intrepid observers could shuttle between both.

Sitting as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, four members of the City Council (Council President Bridget Rivers and councilors Mapp, Reid and Williams) heard testimony from representatives of the Police Division on problems at the 1314 West Front Street location known as the Arlington Liquors/Clinton Deli.

Three officers presented detailed information on infractions at the liquor store or on its substantial property, including sales of drugs inside and outside the store, sales to minors, and employee consumption of alcohol while on duty.

Among other things, the owner's daughter, Williamah Naicken, was caught in a drug transaction inside the store and drugs were found in her purse; further, she was in defiance of a court order barring her from frequenting the premises.

The owner, Vadrajan Naicken, was not represented by counsel. When asked by hearing officer John Motta if he had any questions or statements in his own behalf, he replied 'No'.

This is not the first time Naicken has run afoul of the Council in the annual license renewal process. Evidence was also introduced that Naicken had not complied with previously agreed-to conditions place on his license renewal: surveillance cameras and dusk-to-closing security guards to patrol the large lot.

The police noted there had been 136 calls for service in the July 2012-June 2013 license year. That is an average of more than one call every three days. The cost to the Police Division has been a concern of the Council's at each license renewal period.

To my mind, Naicken's appearance without counsel indicates an attitude that even if the Council takes severe action by refusing to renew his license or placing even more restrictive conditions on it, he will win the day on appeal to Trenton.

Sadly, Plainfield's experience with trying to tighten up on liquor licenses has often been reversed on appeal to the state, and Naicken seems to believe his luck will hold in that regard.

The four councilors deliberated as the ABC behind closed doors. Naicken's license renewal will be up for a vote at the Council's next regular business meeting August 19.

This is how word reached me via FaceBook.


Meanwhile, about 150 young people and adults gathered on the steps of City Hall in a candlelight vigil organized by the Plainfield youth organization Y.O.U. (Youth Organization for Unity).

Coming in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, the Plainfield vigil focused on remembering 'hundreds of unarmed youth killed without justice' (see the event's FaceBook page here). Emily Butler posted a story about the vigil on the Plainfield TAP page (see here).

Once again, it became clear to me that young people use social media in relation to events like the vigil in a way that us older folks just don't think of. I got the first word of the vigil yesterday morning on my FaceBook page, and subsequently received several Tweets on my cellphone as the message was tweeted and retweeted by supporters throughout the day. What remains is for the young people to find a way to bridge the communications gap to those who are not so hip. Suggestions?


To my mind, ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council, see here, which began life as the 'Conservative Caucus of State Legislators') bears the responsibility for Florida's 'stand your ground' law, under which this travesty of justice was orchestrated.

ALEC is an organization funded by conservative business leaders like the Koch brothers that invites legislators from all 50 states to join in supporting a variety of conservative goals on business and social policy issues through state legislatures.

ALEC is directly responsible for the 'stand your ground' law, which it crafted in partnership with the NRA, and which now is exposed as a license to kill Black men and other minorities.

Over the long haul, exposing and defeating the ALEC agenda is what is needed (including the repeal of the 'stand your ground' law in Florida and elsewhere) to turn back this tide of bigotry and hatred.

Here are some resources to help understand and combat ALEC:

ALEC is truly a hydra-headed monster and a threat to American democracy which must be defended against and dealt with.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Christie campaigning for Campbell in Plainfield?

Will Gov. Christie campaign for young John in Plainfield soon?

Wednesday got off with a bang in Plainfield with word that Gov. Chris Christie was to arrive via helicopter at 11:30 AM in the Queen City.

A further report from a Plainfielder who works out at the Scotch Plains/Fanwood YMCA said that Christie would be here to campaign for young John Campbell, the GOP Assembly candidate in the 22nd Legislative District.

To my knowledge, Christie failed to appear. But that does not mean he might not visit Plainfield soon to campaign for Campbell, who the GOP is trying to portray as challenging Assemblywoman Linda Stender (wink, wink).

Christie is a chutzpah kind of guy, and it would be quite in character for him to storm this Democratic bastion (as he did in 2009, when he campaigned in Plainfield -- see my post here).

On the other hand, campaigning for young John Campbell could tarnish Christie's own campaign since Campbell's mother is under scrutiny in another matter.

Wilma Campbell, young John's mother, is the center of a controversy involving the Board of Education selection of the law firm of Pickett and Craig, which has been caught red-handed overbilling the school district.

Worse than that, Wilma Campbell, who is president of the Board of Education, has admitted publicly that she and her husband have business connections with the firm (Mrs. Campbell is an agent in her husband's real estate office).

Some Plainfielders, myself among them, think that the acting Union County Prosecutor should look into the matter of how legal contracts were awarded by Mrs. Campell & crew at the Board of Ed, and whether she and/or the Board conspired to overlook the overbilling by the law firm and other matters.

Ah, politics! Never as simple as it first appears.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Valarie Adams and The Dimensions in free concert Thursday

Valarie Adams and The Dimensions appear Thursday at Plainwood Square Park.

Plainfield's ever-popular outdoor summer concerts continue Thursday evening at 6 PM when Valarie Adams and The Dimensions will entertain residents at the Plainwood Square Park on South Avenue.

Originally begun by the South Avenue Merchants Association and now sponsored by the Plainfield SID (Special Improvement District), the outdoor summer concert series has been immensely popular since its beginning.

Valarie and the Dimensions never disappoint with their renditions of Motown, Funk and R&B classics.

Bring along your own lawn chair and join the crowd.

Parking available in the C-Town parking lot across from the park. Drinks are always available on the patio at Café Vivace, from which the concert can also be enjoyed.

NOTE: PLAINFIELD IDOL TRYOUTS. Auditions for the annual Plainfield Idol contest will be held Tuesday, July 23, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the SID office at 320 Park Avenue. Call Pat Fields for an appointment, at (908) 369-1152. The Plainfield Idol Concert will take place Wednesday, August 21 at Plainwood Square Park. Cash prizes will be awarded to the first, second and third place winners.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Homicide overnight Monday

Sources tell me that Plainfield police discovered the body of an Hispanic male in his early 30s early this morning in the area of Waynewood Place and West Front Street (near the Auto Zone store).

He had evidently been shot in the head overnight and was not discovered until about 6:30 AM.

More as details emerge.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Council on police certification, UEZ funds, Lampkin House

Sometimes we get a pretty close approximation of 'just and capable'.
Mowing through a dense
agenda Monday evening, Plainfield City Council took time to look more deeply into three items: stabilizing the historic Lampkin House on Terrill Road, sequestering the remaining Urban Enterprise Zone funds, and the matter of certifying the Police Division.


Spearheaded by local historic preservation activists, a second plan of action for the Revolutionary-era Lampkin House on Terrill Road was agreed to by Plainfield's City Council Monday evening. Without great enthusiasm, I might add.

The chief concerns of the Council centered around whether the project's proponents could pull it off financially and fears that the City would be on the hook for even more money as the project moves along.

With one of the sticking points being the formation of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to own, restore and operate the property, I am a little leery that no one has yet even begun the paperwork for such an organization.

Secondly, though there appears to be enthusiasm for the project, no one has committed any money and all are waiting for the city to chip in the $63,750 match for the Open Space and Historic Preservation grant necessary to get the ball rolling.

The association of Erick Torain with the project brought to my mind Plainfield's previous experiences with his projects.

The African-American Fund's preschool at Grant Avenue and West 6th Street caused concerns when it was originally funded and the Freeholders allowed as how the City of Plainfield was probably going to be left holding the bag if the bonds were ever defaulted.

The Central Jersey Arts Charter School was an even messier project. Before Mr. Torain became involved, a $5.5 million bond was proposed; after his involvement, the CJACS board was replaced by a new non-profit 'Friend of CJAC' board hand-picked by Torain, the bond amount was increased to $7 million, and the architect who had worked on the project from its inception was sidelined (after testifying as an expert witness on the school's behalf at Planning Board hearings) and snookered out of fees owed.

[Correction: The bonding amounts refer to the Grant Avenue preschool project, not the Central Jersey Arts Charter School. -- Dan]

The Council's support was cautious, tempered by the diaphonous planning and hedged by their concern that no further approaches for funds be made to the city -- on which Councilor Greaves actually conditioned her assent.
Councilor Storch was more skeptical. 'Let's face it,' he said, 'the city will be asked for more [money], it's just a question of when'.

The Resolution, R284-13, passed unanimously.

Whether the Robinson-Briggs administration had inadvertently or purposefully included the Urban Enterprise Zone funds in R270-13, the Council was having none of it.

The item was the subject of a lengthy discussion at last week's agenda-setting session, where Councilors Mapp and Storch led resistance to including the UEZ funds as 'special items of revenue'.

Their argument is that these are not in fact grant funds, but the funds remaining from the UEZ program which the state has essentially disbanded, and that the funds should not be considered a revenue item but a fund to be dedicated by rider to specific uses.

The sticking point for both Mapp and Storch was that those funds had been used to cover administrative costs (for a director and an administrative assistant) while the UEZ was in existence and the funds were being replenished annually from the city's portion of sales tax receipts. Both hold that that situation no longer exists and that the Robinson-Briggs administration should fund the positions out of the general budget -- which it chose not to do in its 2013 budget proposal.

Pleas of the Robinson-Briggs administration that it had no funds to underwrite the salaries were rebuffed by arguments that the City's auditor had ruled the use of UEZ funds for administrative costs would be improper at this point.

If the Robinson-Briggs administration cannot find the funding to maintain the positions, a layoff plan will have to be put in place.

The resolution, R270-13, passed 5-0-1, with no 'nay' votes and Councilor Greaves abstaining.

The Robinson-Briggs administration has considered 'certifying' the Police Division in an on-again, off-again fashion over the past year.

The argument is that the complete revamping of the Division's policies and procedures and training in the updated versions would reduce premiums the City must pay into the Joint Insurance Fund.

While the concept is endorsed by the Council, the rub comes in both the cost and the timing of the proposal.

Councilor Reid is skeptical of how the costs will be recovered through the lower premiums and the Robinson-Briggs administration has not been exactly forthcoming on that question.

Councilor Storch proposed on Monday that since the matter was not one of that much urgency and a new administration would be taking office come January 1, the City would be well-advised to hold off on the matter for a few months.

(No one pointed out the cruel irony that such certification would be provided by the NJ Police Chiefs Association, the same organization which came to the defense of Plainfield Police Chief Ed Santiago when Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig acted as Mayor Robinson-Briggs' hatchet-man in her move to rid herself of the troublesome chief. Hellwig would have to make nice to the very organization of chiefs whom he denigrated in one of his most notorious instances of service to Robinson-Briggs' whims.)

The resolution, R273-13, was tabled 5-1, with Councilor Greaves casting the lone 'nay' vote.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Special Hearing on Arlington Liquors/Clinton Deli Wednesday


Many of the complaints center on activity in the store's large parking lot.

Plainfield City Council will hold a special meeting on Wednesday to conduct a hearing on the renewal of the liquor license for retail sales of the Arlington Liquors/Clinton Deli located on West Front Street, just west of Clinton Avenue.

This liquor store has been the source of many complaints over the years, including sales to minors and drug dealing on the premises. The most recent bone of contention was over the Council's desire to impose the hiring of outdoor security personnel for evening hours. The owners complained it would be too expensive. Police continue to have concerns about conditions at this location.

The liquor license once was situated with a liquor store at Arlington Avenue and Randolph Road, now long gone. That site also was a constant headache to the police. When the license was transferred to the West Front Street location, all the problems seem to have gone along with it.

City Council, sitting as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, has wide latitude in imposing conditions on the license renewal up to and including denial of a renewal. The owner has the ability to appeal any decision at the local level to the state, which has the final say.

The hearing gets under way at 7:00 PM Wednesday, July 17, at City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue. Parking and entrance in the rear of City Hall.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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