Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mapp administration's media firing causes uproar at Council

Lamar Mackson with Stillman School students.
The firing of PCTV's Lamar Mackson brought 14 residents out to speak in his defense at Tuesday evening's City Council agenda-setting session, taking up the first hour of the meeting.

Councilor Bill Reid was not present and Councilor Vera Greaves was elected chair pro tempore of the committee of the whole in his absence. Councilor Rebecca Williams, who teaches on Tuesday evenings, arrived at 9:04 PM. Mayor Adrian Mapp, who serves as Orange's finance director was not present (Tuesdays are Orange's regular council meeting nights).

Ostensibly, the comments were in relation to a proposed ordinance (MC 2014-15) requiring all City Council meetings to be televised.

Resident comments ranged from 'word on the street' statements from Delois Dameron that there is sentiment for Mayor Mapp to be recalled to the suggestion by Plainfield Chamber of Commerce president Jeff Dunn that Mapp's advisers are not giving him good advice to the comments of recently-retired Nancy Jordan that Mackson is being 'penalized behind the domino effect' [of the budget cuts] and the blame needs to be shared by the Council, adding 'it's not all just Mayor Mapp'.

Many, including his father, Lamar Mackson, Sr., noted his long roots in the community, his volunteerism, his role in producing the legendary Rhythm & BLues By the Brook concerts, his support of the YWCA's efforts to launch a theater group, and other worthy contributions.

One startling allegation -- which I find hard to believe, though -- was that Mackson is said to have called out Comcast and Verizon for failure to pay their annual franchise fees. This would have been under the Robinson-Briggs administration and I am surprised at the claim the cable operators would have violated the terms of their franchise agreements -- and that Robinson-Briggs would not have made a public fuss about it.

Neither Mayor Mapp's chief of staff, who is supposed to speak for the mayor when he is otherwise occupied, nor the city's press officer were present, leaving City Administrator Rick Smiley to try and explain the Mapp administration's move. He was interrupted by Council President Bridget Rivers and never really given a chance to make a full and coherent statement about the matter.

What did emerge from the back-and-forth was that Mackson was terminated on Wednesday, June 4, the day after the Primary election. The Mapp administration made no public statement on the firing or the situation regarding the Media Division generally in light of the Council's budget cuts.

Several questions remain unasked and unanswered: What was Mackson's employment status to begin with? Was he a permanent employee with union protections or not? If not, why not? If it was a firing 'for cause', is the Mapp administration prevented from discussing the details without Mackson's consent? Why didn't Mackson speak on his own behalf?

Councilor Gloria Taylor called for an investigation. Council President Rivers suggested that one solution might be to bring Mackson back as a consultant. Most agreed finally that the matter should be, as Councilor Taylor said, 'discussed behind closed doors'. (I wonder whether it meets the legal threshold for an item for executive session discussion.)

This is the second month in a row with a brouhaha (last month it was the Council's vote to 'disapprove' Mayor Mapp's taped presentation on his vision for the city). That is not a good sign.

To restore public confidence, the Mapp administration needs to present a full and reasoned explanation of its actions and how they fit into a long-range plan for the city. Else we shall continue to see these contretemps -- to the embarrassment of the Mayor and the city.

You will also want to read the observations on the matter by bloggers Bernice Paglia (here), David Rutherford (here) and Dr. Yood (here).

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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