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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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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