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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Mayor Mapp and the City Council: War or Compromise?

The inscription on City Hall sets a pretty big task before our leaders.
Plainfield's City Council reorganization on Monday evening broke,for Mayor Adrian Mapp, like the old vaudeville joke, into two halves: Good news and bad news.

After the ceremonial swearing-in of Mayor Mapp, 4th Ward Councilor Bridget Rivers and newly appointed 3rd Ward Councilor Gloria Taylor, the Council reorganized itself with Rivers being elected Council President and 1st Ward Councilor Bill Reid elected Chair of the committee of the whole.

The regular order of business was suspended for the 'Mayor's Message'. (It was not billed as the 'State of the City' address required by the Charter, and it was not made clear if an actual 'State of the City' address will be made at some future point.)

While Mayor Mapp noted his administration's intent to put Plainfield's financial chaos behind us (a reference to the lack of a permanent fiscal officer since 2007) and to deliver a budget 'on time', he focused primarily on a three-pronged initiative --

  1. The creation of a Development Review Commission;
  2. The development of a branding and marketing strategy; and
  3. Advocating for improved public transportation
By the last point, Mapp indicated he means the expansion of the temporary trial one-seat ride to Manhattan slated to begin this Spring into a permanent and full-scale feature offered by New Jersey Transit to the towns along the Raritan Valley Line.

In this connection he cited the oft-repeated mantra that each minute of reduction in the time of a trip to NY Penn Station translates into an increase in value of homes along the rail line of $3,000.

To much applause, Mapp also indicated he intends to propose that the Council place an Open Space referendum on the November ballot to fund more recreational opportunities for Plainfield young people.

Mapp consistently hammered away at the theme of cooperation between the Administration and the Council, saying at one point 'we must put aside everything that might hinder us from working together ... [and] pledge tonight to work together'.

Following Mapp's address and well-wishes, comments and urgings from seventeen residents (Mrs. Lilliam Jamar, Ward 1 committee member, brought the house down when she said, 'I will be watching you'.), the Council got down to business.

Its 'housekeeping' resolutions passed in a single consensus vote.

Mayor Mapp's nominations of Rick Smiley as City Administrator, Ron West as Director Administration and Finance, Eric Jackson as Director of Public Works and Urban Development, David Minchello as Corporation Council, 'AJ' Jalloh as Municipal Clerk and three other slots all passed unanimously.

The Council also passed unanimously five appointments of municipal prosecutors and public defenders put forward by Corporation Counsel.

With no other business proposed by City departments, the Council turned to four new items offered for the agenda by Mayor Mapp. These resolutions needed five affirmative votes to be placed on the agenda.

This is where the 'bad news' began for Mapp. The nominations of Siddeeq El-Amin as Director of Public Affairs and Safety, and Carl Riley as Police Director failed to garner enough votes to be put on the agenda.

However, the Council did put the final two resolutions on the agenda (with only one dissenting vote, from Councilor Greaves). These nominations for Carlos Sanchez as Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development and Joy R. Spriggs, Esq., as Chief Public Defender passed unanimously.

The audience began to rustle with anticipation of the final public comment section when City Administrator Smiley announced the Administration wished to put a temporary budget for the first quarter up for a vote.

Though the adoption of a temporary budget is a standard practice and a necessity in order for the City to function, Council members seemed surprised that the matter was being 'walked on' in such a fashion.

After a few minutes' recess to study the document, Council reconvened amidst complaints of the manner in which it had been brought up, and the significant increse proposed for the Mayor's budget. Lacking five votes to take the matter up, no action was taken, meaning that it will have to be dealt with in a further,  special meeting. (See note below correcting this section.)

While Mapp got most of the appointments he wished, it is clear that there is contention on the horizon over the two sticking points: the public safety appointments and the budget.

While I believe that the Mayor has practically an absolute right to name his or her own cabinet, the Council clearly sees otherwise in regard to Public Safety.

It is not as if it is unheard of for a municipal governing body to dicker over some of the appointments. The question here is Why?

Word in the street for weeks has been that unnamed but powerful figures are adamantly opposed to El-Amin's appointment, favoring two local officers, which of course knocks the outstandingly qualified Riley out of the running (see my previous writeup of him here).

What are the reasons for Mapp's choices and how strongly does he feel about them? What alternatives does he have?

One path, of course, is to seek a compromise with the City Council. Another possibility would be to declare some sort of emergency and ask the Union County Prosecutor Grace Park, the County's chief law enforcement officer, to take over the day-to-day operations of the City's Police Division.

With regard to the budget, it seems at the very least that the matter was not tactically well-handled. It is a mystery to everyone why there was no apparent effort to prepare the Council in advance of the meeting. (In Mayor Mapp's defense, I have heard that the previous Acting City Administrator and Director of Finance Al Restaino left office with the temporary budget matter in limbo.)

What are Mapp's options here? With the funding of his office being the apparent sticking point (is it for the newly created Chief of Staff position?), is there a path of compromise?

Or would he have to ponder a 'nuclear option' such as withdrawing the proposed temporary budget altogether? While the Council has an undisputed right to am,end a budget proposal as it sees fit, it does not introduce the budget and could be blamed for a shutdown of municipal govenment if things came to that pass.

(As I had left the meeting before the final resolution of the budget matter, I relied on a trusted source who told me no agreement had been reached. However, this morning the Clerk's office confirmed that indeed a resolution was finally reached through negotiation and that an amended temporary budget was adopted, averting the need for a special meeting. Are we out of the woods? I don't think so yet.)

So, is it war or compromise?

Mrs. Jamar is watching.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bob said...

It is important to note that Lillian Jamar told the City Council members that she was watching them, not Mayor Mapp. In fact, I thought the turn out and comments proved that the people of Plainfield are watching the City Council to make sure they don't play games, as they did under Sharon, especially Sharon's "stooges" as I call them. They are: Brown, Rivers, Reid, and Greaves. I know I will be watching the Council and the members I mentioned closely. We can't afford any more Sharon type of games when the stakes are so high. If the "stooges" play games, Lillian and I will be campaigning against them and they will lose.

Bob Bolmer
2nd Ward, District 1 Committee Member

Anonymous said...

This is not a dig on Mr Mapp, but a dig on Plainfield as a whole. There will never be a $3000 increase in property values in Plainfield, no matter how short a train ride into the City. Plainfield has had 2 train stations for decades. More than most if not all other stops along the line and it has done nothing to raise property values. Property values will only increase when the City cleans up its act and stops trying to be 1 big ghetto. Let the Police do their job and arrest the criminals. Get the schools to offer a decent education for all students. Eliminate the foreclosure problem that is plaguing the city. Clean up its public housing. Stop building more low income housing unless like Elmwood Gardens, you are removing and replacing with quality over what is already in place. Get the historic districts to realize the City extends beyond their own yards. Enforce Building Codes for violations that affect quality of life issues. I can go on and on, but the bottom line is that a train ride is never going to fix the City. A strong Government that is not afraid to address the issues and not hide behind political relationships will fix the City. All the best to Mr. Mapp. You have your work cut out for you.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Jamar isn't the only one who will be watching!

Ron said...

A problem with blogs is that there is no continuity between different sources reporting on the same topic, namely what is going on in the PPD. I responded to OLDDOC's blog last week citing an email from Al-Amin indicating his pending rejection by the council. Surprise surprise. But if you listened to Jerry Green carefully last night you would have heard him tell you exactly how the voting would go. He said he is totally supportive of Mayor Mapp and the council but he is not going to get involved with internal police department matters. So, Mayor Mapp got everything he asked for except his Public Safety and Police Chief appointments.

Now if you wanted to know who is behind the opposition to his PD appointees, you need to talk to the people that know and they will tell you the names. I found out at the People's Feast on January 1. What organization do you think has the most interest in "internal" police department matters? Look there and you will find your names.

Anonymous said...

Dan, I thought that the Municipal Clerk's position was appointed by The State. I'm I wrong?

Anonymous said...

I see we are screening posts again...

Dan said...

@ 10:07 AM -- You oversimplify everything and I haven't got time to answer you point by point. But your comment aboutproperty values is just plain ignorant. With nearly thrity years as a licensed real estate professional, I can tell you that property values in Plainfield HAVE gone up, and HAVE gone down. They will go up again, you can bank on it. The trick is knowing when.

Dan said...

@ 10:07 AM -- You oversimplify everything and I haven't got time to answer you point by point. But your comment aboutproperty values is just plain ignorant. With nearly thrity years as a licensed real estate professional, I can tell you that property values in Plainfield HAVE gone up, and HAVE gone down. They will go up again, you can bank on it. The trick is knowing when.

Dan said...

@ 4:18 PM -- The clerk is one of the mandatory 'constitutional officers', but is appointed by the Municipal governing body. (One of the duties of a clerk is to be the secretary to the governming body.)