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Friday, January 31, 2014

School budget forum on Saturday morning

District's website advises rescheduled event.

Plainfield's Board of Education will present a budget forum on the proposed 2014-15 school district budget for the public on Saturday morning at the PHS Cafeteria.

This event replaces the one scheduled for last Saturday but canceled on a rumor of snowflakes.

Officials will provide an overview of the school budget and answer questions from the public. While the budget is far and away the largest portion of Plainfield taxpayers' property tax bills, the response to this public presentation is usually quite small.

One concern that has been raised to me is that the District is said to be proposing to defund making Washington and Emerson Community School facilities available for community use in the evenings. This would be a breach of the covenant made with the community that allowed these schools to use the designation 'community school'.

Not only would making the schools unavailable be a breach of faith, it would leave our young people with even fewer recreational resources in a community which values them highly.

What is that about?

The budget presentation will be in the Plainfield High School cafeteria from 9:00 AM to Noon. Parking available in the Kenyon Avenue lot adjacent to the cafeteria.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Symphony dances away cabin fever on Saturday

Costumes are not required, just a desire to catch a break from cabin fever.

For Plainfielders who are having a touch of cabin fever after the cold spells of this January, the Plainfield Symphony is offering the perfect chance to dance away the night on Saturday.

The gathering gets under way at the Parish Hall of the First Unitarian Society at 8:30 PM under the musical spells cast by DJ Michael Roselli.

Billed as an 'After Dinner Dance', the event is a repeat of last year's highly successful evening of fun, and features savory and sweet refreshments, an open bar and a silent auction. All for $50 per person, half of which is a charitable contribution.

You can pay at the door, but they would appreciate a call ahead so there will be plenty of refreshments. Call (908) 561-5660 or email Charles Weltner at

The First Unitarian Society is at 724 Park Avenue near West 7th Street. Parking is available in the public lot across Park Avenue from the church. There will be a lot monitor/crossing guard on duty.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rep. Holt's staff in Plainfield Thursday

Rep. Rush Holt has had Plainfield added to his
Congressional District since the 2010 Census.

Members of Rep. Rush Holt's staff will be in Plainfield Thursday to offer constituent services to area residents.

According to constituent services staff members, the Congressman's office is most often asked to help in matters regarding Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Citizenship and Immigration services.

The are also prepare to provide information on federal grants and contract.

Requests are also often made for flags flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Rep. Holt's staff will be available at the Plainfield Public Librry from 5:00 to 7:00 PM on Thursday, January 30. For more information, visit Rep. Holt's website at or call (877) 874-4658.

The Plainfield Public Library is at Park Avenue and West 8th Street. Parling is available in both the 8th and 9th Street lots.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Governing is not running: Learning to take the long view

Both President Kennedy and President Nixon were fond
of treating the ideogram of 'crisis' as 'danger' plus 'opportunity'.

An opportunity was missed at Monday night's special meeting of the Plainfield City Council, as both Councilor Cory Storch and activist Dottie Gutenkauf observed.

They were referring to the 5-2 decision in four separate votes not to confirm as commissioners of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) Mayor Adrian Mapp's nominees Nan Anderson-Bennett, Thomas Crownover, Charles Tyndale and Thomas Kaercher. (Only sitting commissioner Carol Ann Brokaw was confirmed, 6-1, with Councilor Greaves voting nay.)

The five Councilors who voted as a group are now saddled -- for good or ill -- with their vote and any outcome it may have, whether higher rates for service (from which all beg relief), or from potentially embarrassing findings in a forensic audit of the PMUA currently being conducted by the state.

One more opportunity to learn that governing is not running, and that Mayor Mapp's success will come from patient fortitude and taking the long view.

As Sun Tzu long ago said, 'He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious'.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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So long, it's been good to know ya: Pete Seeger lays down his banjo

Pete Seeger with the young Bob Dylan at the
1964 Newport Jazz Festival. (Photo by Jim Marshall.)

Word comes that Pete Seeger has passed away at 94.

While many folks may remember him as a champion of folk music, my memories are of a talented and fearless man who used his music to rally his listeners for peace, justice and brotherhood.

And I do mean fearless. A childhood of some privilege and a family with wide and influential connections did not deter him once he had picked up the banjo and the justice message.

Not only was he fearless in the face of some of America's darkest times (during the McCarthy period, in which I spent my high school years), he stared down the HUAC, refusing to rat on his friends and fellow activists or to plead the Fifth Amendment, basing his arguments on his First Amendment rights of speech and association.

Though he (and groups in which he sang, like the Almanac Singers and the Weavers) was blacklisted, he stood his ground.

And whole generations of young people learned the value of sticking to your principles as a result.

Among the honors of his late life was singing at the inaugural of President Barack Obama.

If you experienced his music in person, I need say no more. If you never have, nothing I can say will do the man justice.

As his friend Woody Guthrie put it well, 'so long, it's been good to know ya'.

So long, Pete, it's been good to know ya.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, January 27, 2014

So, the dog caught the car. Now what?

What happens if he catches the car?

A friend described Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp's election win in November in terms of 'the dog catching the car'. The implied question being, 'Now what'?

When I was a youngster, I had a crush on a girl named Priscilla Lawrence. She lived near the three-room Township school and I saw her every day. When her parents broke up and her mother moved a few miles away, I would ride my bike to see her almost every day after school.

There was a dog at a farm on the way that loved to chase cars. And kids on bicycles who crossed his turf. He would come from nowhere it seemed and chase me for a couple hundred feet, nipping at my feet as I furiously pedaled until I got up enough speed and he tired of the chase.

One day the chain slipped the sprockets and I was immobilized right by the dog's driveway. Neither of us was prepared for that to happen.

My heart was in my mouth as he charged down the driveway toward the road, barking the whole way. Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. I didn't speed off, and he didn't seem to have another strategy.

I walked my bike slowly down the road and he followed at a distance, growling but not nipping. After I got a little piece down the road, he seemed assured that he was the king of his turf and turned and trotted back to his driveway and disappeared from view.

After getting my chain back on the sprockets I pedaled off. From then on, I would get off the bike and walk it past his drive, and he never chased me again.'.

So, after years of 'chasing the car' of Plainfield's Democratic politics, Mayor Mapp finally 'caught the car' and was elected.

Two questions arise.

What will he do now that he has caught the car? Getting past tonight's appointment-stuffed Council meetings, we should begin to see some direction emerge as Mayor Mapp's team is finally assembled and folks come on line and take up their duties.

The second is whether those who watch -- and comment via the blogs -- will adopt a different tactic, realizing that postures and pronouncements of perpetual campaigning must be displaced by the nuts-and-bolts of governing, which is a very different thing.

Will the kibitzers be up to it?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Monday's Council: Two meetings, two agendas, too much drama?

Like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland
it will be important not to be late Monday evening.

Plainfield's City Council meets in two back-to-back meetings Monday evening. The question is: How much drama will there be? And at which meeting?

I was the third person to show up at the City Clerk's office late Friday afternoon, looking for the backup work to the agenda for the Special Meeting called for 6 PM tomorrow. (I was told Bernice and Olddoc had already checked in and were given the same answer I got: We don't have the backup material yet.)

Thinking the material may be waiting to be transferred from the City Administrator's office to the Clerk, I stopped across the rotunda to check. It wasn't ready, but it was my good fortune to run into Mayor Mapp and put a couple of questions to him about the special meeting which he has called.

The mayor advised that there was only one item on the executive session set for 6:05 PM and that was to interview a candidate for the long-vacant Chief Financial Officer's position. While he wouldn't give any details about who was being proposed, Mayor Mapp did volunteer the candidate was 'probably the best CFO in the state'.

Council watchers need to take note: This interview will likely not take long; even the most recalcitrant Council member hardly wants to be seen to be obstructing an appointment that is so badly needed.

So, I would suggest getting to the Council Chambers/Courthouse by no later than 6:15 PM. The point being that when the Council emerges from the executive session, it will immediately launch into the business of the special meeting, including the public's ability to comment on agenda items before action is taken.

While the many appointments to boards and commission proposed have drawn considerable interest -- especially since the public does not know who is proposed at this point -- my eye was caught the last several items of the agenda called for by the Mayor.

Mayor Mapp is proposing once again to tackle the delinquent tax penalty rates. It will be interesting to see if the Council members who are in arrears (and would benefit financially by reducing the interest rate penalties) will have the cajones to vote against the City's traditional resolution (which these same folks adopted time and again under Mayor Robinson-Brigss, without comment or protest).

Then there are four proposed ordinances. Two dealing with judge's salaries seem unremarkable.

But two are to establish a new job title of 'deputy police director' and a salary band for same.

And they are placed at the end of the agenda, which in the special meeting is controlled by the Mayor, who has called the meeting.

A little horse-trading?

As for the 'regular' meeting, which was postponed from this past Tuesday and gets under way at 8:00 PM, the interesting items appear under the Corporation Counsel's section of the agenda and appears to involve settlements of claims (judging from the names of the claimants, having to do with tax liens) against the City.

Would be interesting to know more details about these. And also whether any of the lienholders involved in Plainfield tax lien sales have been involved in the tax lien bid rigging activities that have been in the media in recent months.

Will there be any drama at either Monday meeting? Depends on what you consider dramatic, I guess.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Indira Bailey in Black History Month show at Drake House

'Nani and Joe', by Indira Bailey.

Plainfield artist Indira Bailey will be featured in a Black History Month exhibit at the Drake House which opens Sunday (January 26) with a reception from 2 - 4 PM.

Indira has taught commercial illustration in the Essex County Vo-Tech Schools for over a decade. She has won Fulbright-Hayes Fellowships to South Africa (2004), Japan (2005) and Morocco (2011). In 2012, she was named Essex County Teacher of the Year and was one of four finalists for NJ Teacher of the Year. In 2013, Ms. Bailey was selected for New Jersey's first Teacher Advisory Pilot Program.

Ms. Bailey's art depicts the daily lives of many of the people in the countries she has visited as a Fulbright-Hayes scholar.

The show will hang in the Drake House Gallery throughout the month of February and may be viewed during the museum's regular hours or by appointment.

The Drake House Museum at 602 West Front Street (at the foot of Plainfield Avenue) is open to the public Sunday afternoons from 2:00 - 4:00 PM, and at other times by appointment. For more information, call (908) 755-5831 or visit the website at

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Busy Saturday: Board of Ed budget...Obamacare Forum...DQ Half-Off Sale...

The only 'storm' I'm aware of Saturday is the Blizzards on sale
at the Dairy Queen -- here demonstrated by owner Donna Albanese.

A busy Saturday for Plainfielders has been lightened somewhat by the curious cancellation by the Board of Ed of a scheduled school budget forum on account of an 'impending storm'. If you haven't heard about the 'storm', neither has my weather 'bug' which only notes 'a little snow'. The postponed event is now slated for next Saturday. Maybe they were thinking of the Blizzards on sale at the Dairy Queen?

In any event, you may venture out for the Deltas forum on Obamacare, the Board of Ed's Community Health Fair (apparently NOT cancelled) and top it all off with an all-day Half Off Sale at the Plainfield Dairy Queen.

The Central Jersey Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority will join with Cross of Life Lutheran Church in hosting a free forum on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) at the church on Saturday from 10:30 AM to 2:00 PM. The forum will be led by Katherine Woodfield, the founder of Health Care Insurance Education. The program is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. Cross of Life Lutheran Church is at 1240 East 7th Street at Marsh Place. For more information, see the previous post here.
The Board of Ed's Family Success Center evidently didn't get the memo about the 'impending storm' and is holding its annual Community Health Fair at the Center from 10 AM to 2 PM on Saturday. In addition to a variety of health screenings, information will be available on a number of family-related services as well as activities for the whole family. The Family Success Center is in the former BOE headquarters at 504 Madison Avenue, corner of West 5th Street. Parking is available on site.
Donna Albanese and crew will welcome customers all day long to the annual Customer Appreciation Day -- with everything in the store Hall Off! The DQ has been a community gathering place for years, and you will surely see some friends and neighbors there enjoying the store's famous Blizzards and Smoothies or, for warmth, its hot dogs and sandwiches. One thing about the expected weather -- You surely won't have to worry about your cakes melting on the way home. The Dairy Queen is at 1367 South Avenue, near Plainwood Square Park.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Starlight at Arkwright

I grew up at the southern limit of the mysterious Northern Lights.

The current cold snap in the Plainfield area put me in mind of growing up on the shores of Lake Erie, where the combination of higher latitudes and the slope of the land towards Erie as part of the terminal morain of the last ice age gave us plenty of experience of the 'polar vortex' (though we never heard that expression), crystal-clear nights under twinkling starlight and the occasional aurora borealis.

I grew up in Pomfret Township in Chautauqua County, the westernmost county in New York State. Famous as the center of Concord grape production, the area was also known for dairy farming and fruit orchards -- particularly apples and pears.

In the late 1940s, the technical marvels of the future were just on the horizon -- TV, for those lucky enough to have a set, was broadcast for only a few hours a day from WBEN, the station of the Buffalo Evening News, some 55 miles away.

Winter recreation consisted of sledding, skiing or organizing pickup basketball games in a neighboring farmer's unheated barn with groups of youngsters that regularly included kids aged 8 or 9 to young men of 18 or 19.

One special treat was to go to the square dances at the Grange in the neighboring township of Arkwright. The Grange was a farmers' benefit organization founded after the Civil War to rally farmers against the rail monopolies whose freight charges often kept farmers in a state of dependency. Grange meeting halls were also centers of community activity and popular sites for dances.

We would bundle up and pile into neighbors' cars to travel up into the Arkwright hills to the Grange for the dances, which were a popular draw from miles around.

In near-zero temperatures, the snow would crunch under foot and stars would twinkle in the black sky that was undimmed by any sort of street lighting.

Inside, the room would become toasty warm from the exercise of square dancing in which even the youngest participated (I was about twelve on this particular night). The band would alternate sets of square dances with what was called 'round dancing' -- just like portrayed in Western movies.

These being good church folk, there was no tippling in the building, but the men would slip outside discreetly from time to time to take a sip or two of whiskey from a bottle kept in someone's car. It was a sign of coming-of-age to be invited to have a sip with the men and led to a lot of good-natured joshing among the boys over who was 'in' and who was not.

The particular night I recall was special because it marked the first public appearance of my schoolmate Rex Olrogge since he had been hit by a blast from a .16 gauge shotgun discharged by my cousin Neil in a hunting accident. Rex was lucky, every hunting season there would be reports of fatal shootings of hunters by their companions who mistook them for game.

Having survived made Rex something of a hero and every girl wanted to get in a dance with him that evening.

A special treat that night was seeing a good show of the Northern Lights off over Lake Erie and Ontario Province, some fifty miles away, as we left the dance for home.

Though western New York winters can be severely cold and get considerable snowfalls from what is called 'the Lake effect', folks were quite aware of the danger that cold weather brought and took precautions against it.

Here in New Jersey, it all seems unusual and almost surreal. And though we are surrounded on all sides by people and busy urban bustle, it is still possible for folks to suffer greatly and even die on account of the cold weather.

How many in Plainfield are at the mercy of the weather?

We shall get a picture next week as Union County conducts its annual midwinter survey of homeless individuals, something utterly foreign and unknown in my innocent wintry childhood.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Life-threatening cold, but no evidence of lifesaving plans?

The navel-gazing City website advises who is working on Wednesday,
but nothing else -- and what is with that hokey 'seal'?

For the volunteers who devoted hundreds of hours to preparing a Transition report so that Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp could 'hit the ground running', it has been frustrating to witness the pace with which the Mayor's team is being assembled.

The second cold snap of the new mayor's term is no exception. With outdoor temperatures hovering at 7° above zero as I write, there is no evidence of a communications plan to push the word out to residents about lifesaving services offered by the City.

While the navel-gazing website advises that only 'essential personnel' will be staffing offices on Wednesday, there is no mention of what those without heat should do, or what efforts are being made by public safety personnel to ensure that none of Plainfield's homeless freeze to death because of the cold weather, which is expected to continue for several days.

The apparent lack of information underscores both the need for the Office of Emergency Management to have a plan for cold weather emergencies, and for the City to have communications personnel and a communications plan in place for such eventualities.

Those without heat need to know where to go to stay warm and what will be offered for them (beds? food? social services?).

What about renters whose landlords fail to provide heat? Where do they go? To whom do they complain about the lack of heat? What can the City do with recalcitrant landlords?

And what about Plainfield's homeless, many of whom are squatters in vacant, unheated and dangerous buildings? Who is watching out for them? Who is making sure they take advantage of the easing of restrictions on shelter services at the YMCA under 'Code Blue' conditions?

How is word to be gotten to a variety of residents, many of whom have no access to the Internet and do not read newspapers?

Residents are looking for lifesaving leadership for Plainfield, in great things and small. Isn't that a fair expectation?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Will Council violate conflict-of-interest?

Will Councilors with a conflict of interest recuse themselves?

One question for tonight's (RESCHEDULED) Plainfield City Council meeting is whether some members will violate conflict-of-interest rules by discussing -- and perhaps voting on -- interest rates for overdue taxes and for tax lien sales.

When brought up at last week's agenda setting session by Tax Collector Dave Marshall, the pro forma resolution adopted for many years was derailed by Councilor Bill Reid with support from other members.

Olddoc reported on his blog that several (unnamed) members of the Council were in tax arrears to the tune of more than $62,000 (see his posts and all 22 comments here and here).

For these Councilors to be in arrears and to vote on reducing the interest penalty which they would face is beyond the pale.

But first is the question of whether the Mapp administration will bring that matter to the Council again at this time (it is not on tonight's proposed agenda that was emailed on Friday).

If the matter is brought up as a 'walk-on' item, will the Councilors who stand to gain personally by a reduction of interest rates recuse themselves?

Or will they plunge headlong into a conflict-of-interest situation?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Frontiers MLK Breakfast features Ras Baraka

Newark councilman Ras Baraka will speak at Monday's
Frontiers International MLK Breakfast.

The Plainfield Chapter of Frontiers International presents its 38th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast Monday, beginning at 8:30 AM at the Plainfield High School cafeteria. The Breakfast is the longest running tribute to Dr. King in New Jersey.

This year's guest speaker Ras Baraka, community organizer, educator, councilman and candidate for mayor of Newark. Baraka, who has served as principal of Central High School since 2007, will speak on the theme 'It’s Always the Right Time to do the Right Thing', a quote from Dr. King’s speech made at Oberlin College in 1965.

The Breakfast, an annual commemoration of the life of Dr. King, highlights student groups, awards scholarships, and recognizes those in the community who have made outstanding contributions.

This year’s honorees include the Community Spirit Award to Former NFL Player Donald Jones; Community Service Award to Baron Hilliard/Together as One; Outstanding Achievement Award to Jeff Truitt; and the International Service Award;  Ashante Taylorcox.

For more information, contact Andrea Kee at (908) 327-8002 or via email to

Parking is available in the Kenyon Avenue lot adjacent to the cafeteria.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Friends of Library annual meeting Tuesday

The Book Sale is one of the Friends' annual fundraising events.

The Friends of the Plainfield Public Library will hold its annual meeting Tuesday evening January 21 at 7:00 PM in the library's Anne Louise Davis Meeting Room.

The Friends' organization holds a variety of fund-raising activities throughout the year to supplement funding for program activities. The check representing the Friends' contribution for 2013 will be presented to the Library's Executive Director Joe Da Rold at that time.

The evening's program will feature entertainment by the Plainfield High School Jazz Ensemble under the leadership of Gregg Williams.

While the public is warmly invited and may join the organization on Tuesday evening, only paid members will be voting on the slate of officers for 2014.

The Plainfield Public Library is at Park Avenue and West 8th Street. Parking is available in the 8th and 9th Street lots.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, January 17, 2014

6th Annual MLK Potluck Dinner and Food Drive Saturday


Plainfield residents are invited to join with neighbors and friends on Saturday evening for the 6th Annual MLK Potluck Dinner and Food Drive.

The event gets under way at 7:00 PM at the home of Mayor Adrian Mapp and his wife Amelia, 535 West 8th Street.

All are invited to bring a dish to share and contributions of canned goods or nonperishable food items. These will be delivered to the food pantry at Shiloh Baptist Church.

A tradition begun by the New Democrats Political Club, the Potluck Dinner is sponsored this year by the Adrian Mapp Civic Association.

This has become one of the 'must attend' events in connection with the honoring by Plainfielders of Dr. King;s life and contributions each year. Hope to see you there!

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Zoning, Planning Board vacancies troubling



Plainfield's Zoning Board of Adjustment was only able to reorganize itself Tuesday evening because a fifth member called in from South Jersey to participate via telephone.

Only four of the Board's current seven members were physically present, one shy of a quorum. Had Board member Alejandro Ruiz not phoned in, the Board could not have conducted its reorganization.

With two expired seats awaiting appointments, the Board's ability to conduct its business is put in jeopardy by the vacant seats. Plainfield's new mayor, Adrian Mapp, has yet to submit nominations for the Zoning Board of Adjustment to the Council. This means that the earliest new appointments could possibly be confirmed would be February 10 -- after the Board's February 5 meeting.

The eleven member Planning Board, which meets to reorganize tonight for 2014, faces a similar situation. Class IV member Horace Baldwin has been nominated to succeed himself, but will not be voted on until next Tuesday -- after the reorganization meeting. Two other Class IV seats whose terms are up -- member Sidney Jackson and alternate #1 Willie Faulks, Jr., -- have yet to have nominations made.

Mayor Mapp has named as his designee his Chief of Staff John Stewart, but the Council declined to put the name of his nominee for the municipal officer's  (Class II) seat -- Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez.

In addition, the Council has yet to name its member, who holds a seat for a one-uear appointment. (Held in 2013 by Councilor Bill Reid.)

These seats are crucial because the Zoning and Planning Boards are directly concerned with development and redevelopment projects (which everyone wants to see get under way) and because state law does not allow for 'holdovers' on land use boards, meaning that the seats that expire actually become vacant.

If it's true, as David Rutherford reports, that the Council has taken upon itself to offer its own 'nomination' for the Class II seat -- an unheard of intrusion by the governing body into the prerogatives of the executive -- the new Mapp administration faces the possibility of a showdown moment before even getting off the ground.

Is this a signal to possible developers and investors that Plainfield is still not ready for prime time?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

PMUA freezes wages for 2014


In a sometimes rambling two-plus-hour meeting, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority was told by Executive Director Dan Williamson that while there would be no layoffs or furloughs this year (as contrasted to 2013), there would be a wage freeze that would include the agency's executive staff as well as front-line workers.

While there were allusions to controlling expenses, the principal reason for a constrained fiscal situation still seems to be the continuing payout of the $1 million settlement for former executives Eric Watson and David Ervin engineered by Commissioners Malcolm Dunn, Cecil Sanders and Alex Tolliver.

It was noted that the 'approximately 45' employees who have chosen to be represented by Teamsters Local 97 still have no contract, which leaves the Authority with a free hand in regard to wages. (The Teamsters were certified as representing all the blue-collar employees over two years ago -- see here -- and one has to wonder why it is taking so long to negotiate the initial contract.)

Some of the Commissioners remarked several times during the meeting that critics and the public 'just don't understand' the Authority's operations and financial picture. If this is so, whose fault is that?

(Interestingly, Mayor Mapp's Transition Team learned during the course of its work that City staffers create PSAs (public service announcements) for free on behalf of the PMUA, even though the agency has its own public information staff.)

One other perennial topic was touched upon -- comparisons between the PMUA and solid waste management costs in other communities (both those with municipal authorities and those without).

Jeff Bliss, of Lerch Vinci & Higgins, blew smoke by saying that the PMUA offers a 'unique range of services' which makes comparisons with other communities very difficult. This is the same argument he has trotted out at budget time for several years now.

I am unconvinced. This whole matter could be put to rest by developing a comparison chart of all services (and costs) for the PMUA and laying these alongside the same information for other communities. Not a big deal, if you really wanted to get to the bottom of it all.

Unless, of course, the comparisons would give cause to question some of the PMUA's figures.

Of interest to those looking for synergies between various agencies was the resolution renewing a contract with Cartegraph, which the Authority uses to monitor its fleet of vehicles and for real-time Inspections (violations) activity (see the firm's website here).

Would it be fair to ask why the City and the School District don't consider working with the PMUA to develop a shared services agreement based on this firm's technology for managing operations?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Deltas host forum on Obamacare (Update)

[This update contains information left out of original post.] The Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta and Plainfield's Cross of Life Lutheran Church are joining forces to host a free forum on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Led by Katherine Woodfield, the founder of Health Care Insurance Education, the forum will address the following issues --

  • What is the Affordable Care Act?
  • Who is eligible to enroll?
  • What does the plan cover?
  • How do I choose a plan?
  • How do I enroll in a plan?
  • How much does a plan cost?
  • What is the penalty for not participating?
  • When does the coverage start for those who enroll?
The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited, so you must register in advance. To register, go the event's registration page here. The forum will be held Saturday, January 25, from 10:30 AM to 2:00 PM. Light refreshments will be served.

The Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter is one of more than a thousand chapters of this century-old organization of college-educated women. To learn more about the Deltas and their community-oriented programs, visit the local chapter's website (here), the sorority's official website (here) or read the well-researched Wikipedia article (here).

Cross of Life Lutheran Church is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is located at 1240 East Seventh Street at Marsh Place (diagonally across from the Armory). There is limited parking in the church lot on Radcliffe Place. Aditional parking is available on Marsh Place and Radcliffe Place.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

El-Amin asks Council for fair treatment

Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp's nominee for Public Safety Director, Siddeeq El-Amin, read an eloquent statement to the City Council during the public comment section at Monday's agenda-setting session asking for fair treatment in the selection process.

Picking up on Councilor Brown's statement at the reorganizations meeting that she had received 'disturbing' (but unspecified) information about El-Amin prior to voting on his nomination last week, El-Amin detailed his efforts to meet with individual Councilors to discuss any concerns they may have.

El-Amin acknowledged that he had a good meeting with Councilor Taylor, and a brief phone conversation with Councilor Brown, but that Council President Bridget Rivers had canceled four meetings that she had set up with him.

Bernice (see here) and Olddoc (see here) have posted the complete text of El-Amin's statement today, and David Rutherford put up a recording of El-Amin's remarks (see here). I was not given a copy of the statement.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Council stonewalls tax lien item

How to balance all these competing interests?

City Council stonewalled the new Mapp administration on a routine tax lien resolution at Monday's agenda-setting session for next week's business meeting.

The resolution proposed to renew the City's standard penalties and setting interest rates on delinquent taxes and for tax lien sales. It failed to move forward to next week's agenda, when Chairman Bill Reid polled the Council and Council President Bridget Rivers and Councilors Greaves, Taylor and Reid were opposed to moving the resolution forward.

Property tax collections fell disastrously under Mayor Robinson-Briggs to a low of about 93%, which Tax Collector David Marshall says he has gotten up to 96.42% since he was brought on board in 2013.

Property tax collection rates are a constant source of anxiety for elected officials. Not only must they take into account angry constituents, they have a fiscal responsibility towards maintaining the city's good credit.

Lower tax collection rates affect both the city's credit rating and the amount of cash required by the state to be held in reserve for uncollected taxes.

All of which helps explain the carrot-and-stick approach (well, mostly 'stick') by the state's municipalities in the constant effort to push collection rates toward 100%. Hence the public notices which shame delinquents and the tax lien sales which bring in needed revenue to the city from those who speculate in others' misery.

Despite the lack of a detailed analysis of who exactly are the property tax laggards -- is it Senior Citizens? out-of-work homeowners? absentee landlords? -- Councilors Bill Reid, Tracey Brown and Gloria Taylor proceeded to discuss the matter as if it were only about Seniors.

But when asked for a proposal on how to handle the situation, the only response was Reid's suggestion to lower the interest rates.

Understanding that tax lien investors are looking at getting the highest return on their money, the suggestion by Reid that lower interest rates would not deter these investors seems counter-intuitive.

Councilor Williams took another tack, asking if the proposed interest rates were the same as those adopted by the Council (without objection) under the Robinson-Briggs administration. The answer was 'yes', to which Williams then asked, 'So, what has changed'? There was no answer to her rhetorical question.

What Councilor Reid (and, by extension, Brown and Taylor) don't acknowledge is that giving Seniors a further tax break (they already get a break by state law), means that all the other taxpayers must face a rise in their taxes to cover the shortfall created by giving Seniors special treatment. There are no free lunches.

Are Reid and Company just showboating? One may wonder if they fail to come up with concrete proposals.

Will all be made clear next Tuesday (Monday is the observance of MLK Day)?

Since the efforts of Mayor Mapp, City Administrator Smiley and Corporation Counsel Minchello to resolve the matter last evening with a recess was rebuffed, the resolution will be brought forward next week as a 'new' item and will have to be added to the agenda with five affirmative votes.

This last fact was underscored by Council President Bridget Rivers twice in the course of the deliberations.

It would be entirely possible for the Rivers-Reid-Brown-Greaves-Taylor bloc to refuse to take up the matter.

Then what would the Mapp administration do?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, January 13, 2014

City's official website disappears?

The city's domain name (highlighted in yellow) is as much
as asset as a snow plow or a fire truck.
Checking Plainfield's official website (see here) before going to bed Sunday evening, I was startled to find a 'website not found' error notice.

If you recall, I wrote in December (see here) that an issue had come to light when a Transition Team volunteer uncovered the fact that the domain name was set to expire at the end of 2013.

I pointed out that the plainfield .com domain was a valuable asset, and hoped that someone would address the issue before the registration expired as Mayor-elect Mapp had no authority to order an action to be taken.

I was roundly criticized by a member of the Transition Team for being unprofessional, for which I apologized to that person and to Mayor-elect Mapp.

The overnight 'disappearance' of the City's official website appears more likely to have been a short downtime for maintenance, as the site was up and working Monday morning.

However the incident led me to check the 'Whois' database, which lists detailed information about the site and its ownership. You can view that information here.

There I found that on December 11, 2013, the day after my original post, the site's registration had been renewed until January 11, 2015 and the ownership information indicated an unnamed entity in Drums, PA, a small community in the Poconos.

As I pointed out in December, the domain name is an asset, just as much as a snow plow or a fire truck --

...owning both domain names [.con and .gov] gives the City of Plainfield the flexibility to allow the use of the .com domain for a separate purpose (or purposes) from the city government website -- say as  window on economic development activity and opportunities, or to promote Plainfield cultural organizations and activities or tourism or as an online marketplace for Plainfield businesses. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations ... AND OWNING the domain name.
If the ownership has truly been taken away from the City of Plainfield, a question arises whether City staff have a 'duty of care' with regard to the preservation of the ownership of the domain name and have thus been negligent.

Such negligence, if that is the case, could have serious consequences.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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