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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sad state of sympathy cards

Heaven help us!

death of a friend's parent led to a trip to Norman's Hallmark in Fanwood to buy a sympathy card, and to chagrin over what's become of them.

I've been buying cards for special occasions at this shop for over thirty years -- since before it was even Irma's Bag. The shop has changed over the years, with less space devoted to giftwrap and more to tchotchkes. On this trip, I even noticed a mannequin offering clothing items.

The Hallmark greeting cards section has become enormous, even as Americans are mailing fewer items each year. And Hallmark, with an exquisitely tuned ear for marketing, has created several smaller distinctive lines offering edgy alternatives to the more traditional offerings.

But in sympathy cards, I prefer a very simple and straightforward card with plenty of space for me to write a personal note.

To my surprise, though there were over a hundred cards to choose from, there wasn't a single simple card. Everything was awash in pastel swoops and bunches of flowers. And the insides were filled with overlong treacly sentiments.

Since Hallmark wouldn't offer all this stuff if it weren't making money by doing so, the question came to my mind whether we substitute this stuff for a real expression of our sympathy and connection to those who have suffered a loss because we are just too busy, afraid to look the inevitable in the eye, or because we don't know how to express ourselves any more.

Or perhaps all three?

In any event, it's a sad state for sympathy cards.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Exhibit of Detwiller Collection drawings opens at Library

The Plainfield Public Library, one of a handful of modernist buildings in the city,
houses an outstanding collection of local architectural drawings.

The Plainfield
Public Library is mounting an exhibition from its Detwiller Collection of architectural drawings in honor of New Jersey's 350th anniversary.

Plainfield architect Charles H. Detwiller, Jr., is credited with rescuing thousands of architectural drawings that were being disposed of by the City by dumping from an upper floor window at City Hall into a dumpster in the parking lot.

The collection of over 16,000 items representing over 500 architects documents over a century of residential and commercial architecture in the Plainfield area. Its record of the architectural history of a suburban community is unique in the United States.

Among its outstanding items of interest are drawings of the Fire Headquarters on Central Avenue designed by architect George Ernest Robinson in 1925 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The exhibit culls 70 pieces from thirty-five sets of drawings by 24 architects. It is displayed on walls and in display cases on both levels of the Library.

Preservation of these aging documents began in 1998. The conservation and digitizing of the collection is still ongoing. This work is entirely supported through grant funding and volunteer efforts. Local funders  include the Plainfield Foundation and the Friends of the Plainfield Public Library.

The exhibit opens September 2 and runs through October during regular library hours. For more information on the Detwiller Collection, contact Sarah Hull, head of the Local History Department at (908) 757-1111 x136.

To arrange group visits, call (908) 757-1111 x129. The Plainfield Public Library is at Park Avenue and West 8th Street and is an accessible facility. Parking is available in the 8th and 9th Street lots.

NOTE: This post has been changed to correct information about George Ernest Robinson contained in the original press release.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Mayor Mapp vetoes HAP ordinance

Mayor Mapp has vetoed the 'land grab' ordinance
that would convey Public Parking Lot 9
to the Housing Authority of Plainfield.

Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp forwarded his veto of the so-called HAP ordinance (MC 2014-16) Thursday morning to Council President Bridget Rivers and members of the governing body by hand and electronically to their email accounts. I have posted a copy of the document online (see here) and embedded it below for your reference.

The veto lists sixteen objections, several of which appear to be fatal to the ordinance, presented in descending order of importance.

Here are some of the main points --

  1. The statute cited in the proposed ordinance to justify the transfer (NJSA 40A: 12-20) is either misunderstood or purposely misconstrued by the person(s) who drafted the ordinance and does not convey the authority put forward by the ordinance's assertion;

  2. The terms and conditions of the sale are not fully set forth -- including the question of soil contamination and remediation which had been in the back of my mind;

  3. One of the properties listed in the ordinance (318-20 West Front) is actually across the street from the proposed property to be transferred and is not even owned by the City -- this is was completely missed by the Council majority in the rush to pass the ordinance;

  4. The one lot that could be transferred (the vacant lot at Madison Avenue and West 2nd Street) is in a redevelopment plan and must be conveyed for the purposes specifically outlined in that plan -- conditions not spelled out in the proposed ordinance; and

  5. The ordinance does not set forth a finding that the lots are not needed for a public use.
Further, the matter of the qualifications of the Housing Authority of Plainfield and its Community Development Corporation are addressed in several other points.

Besides unanswered questions about the experience, ability or financial wherewithal of these entities to perform as set forth, the failure of HAP Executive Director Randy Wood to submit resolutions by both his Board of Commissioners and the CDC's board authorizing the transfer is also noted.

Lastly, the mayor's letter notes there is no indication of who or what entity drafted this ordinance. (The copy that was presented to the Council at its July agenda-setting session looked fishy to me because the document did not contain either an ordinance number -- supplied by the Clerk's office -- or the customary lines for attestation by the Clerk and the Mayor.)

Has the haste of Council President Bridget Rivers and the Council majority to 'railroad' this ordinance -- to use Councilor Storch's term -- led to embarrassing the Council and sending Wood & Co. back to the drawing board?

Though Council President Rivers asserted 'we [the Council] are not going to do anything illegal' at the August second reading and hearing, the question is whether the Council will ignore the ordinance's fatal defects and vote to overturn the veto?

I don't think we've heard the last on the matter just yet.

Below is the full text of Mayor Mapp's veto.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sharon planning recall of Mapp?

The notorious 'Re-elect Sharon' banner hung on City Hall
was doctored to remove 'Re-elect'.

Former Plainfield
mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has been nearly as visible since losing office as she was during her two terms in City Hall.

She and a tight-knit group of supporters are regular attendees at Council meetings, where she is given extra deferential treatment -- including extra time at the mike while others are not.

Sharon can also be seen at some public events, working the crowd. The recent capper probably was the National Night Out celebration at City Hall, where the stage was taken over by Her Honor and friends, turning it into a sort of 'Sharon Show'.

During the break at last week's Council meeting for an executive session to interview Health Officer Denise Proctor over the residency waiver, someone said to me they had heard Sharon was organizing a recall of Mayor Adrian Mapp.

The scenario would include launching the campaign after the first of the year -- an elected official cannot be recalled until after at least a year in office -- and include Sharon herself as the replacement candidate.

Do I see a movie here?

'Night of the Living Dead in Plainfield'?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

$37,500 check benefits First Tee youth program of Plainfield YMCA and Plainfield Country Club

Through First Tee, Plainfield youngsters learn golf and more
at the Plainfield Country Club's West 9 course on Woodland Avenue.
A youth golf and education program of the Plainfield YMCA and the Plainfield Country Club received a check for $37,500 Saturday at The Barclays golf tournament at the Ridgewood Country Club.

The check was a matching contribution by the PGA, the national golf association, to funds already raised by the local program.

Begun in 2009, the First Tee of Plainfield program was the first private country club in the country to offer the program, which brings urban youngsters to the club's public West 9 course to learn the game of golf and important life skills. The program also includes an element called 'Path to College', which helps encourage participants in the golf program to continue on to college level education.

The check was delivered at Saturday's event to representatives of the program, including Plainfield mayor Adrian Mapp, YMCA Executive Director Ravenell Williams IV and Paul Zoidis, chair of First Tee of Plainfield.

The program is offered to children in grades 4-12 and runs over a 9-week period that includes instruction on and off the golf course in addition to an intensive homework, fitness and healthy living curriculum. 'All aspects of the program are designed to teach core life skills and demonstrate to each participant that there is a ‘Path to College’, which is an underlying principle of The First Tee of Plainfield', said Zoidis.

A Committee of Champions has been formed to help market the program and recruit participants. The Champions Committee includes Bill Caster, PGA Golf Pro at the Plainfield West 9; Steven King, Founder, The Barack Obama Green Charter School; Kelvin Mason; Erica Phillips and Randy Wood, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Plainfield.

For more information about the program, contact YMCA Executive Director Ravenell Williams IV at (908) 756-6060.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Happy Birthday, brother Bill

My dad was the 'baby' of his siblings, and some of my cousins
in this photo were nearly his age -- not uncommon when families were larger.

My 'little' brother celebrates his birthday today.

I won't tell you how old he is, but living in Arizona all these years has kept him and his wife Barb youthful.

The group photo is of 'the cousins' -- my grandmother Damon's grandchildren (most of them) -- at Christmas 1946. Bill is at bottom left, sitting astride the sofa arm, Dan is beside him on the sofa.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Will new foreclosure law help Plainfield?

A private crew was cutting the grass of this Kenyon Avenue foreclosure
Sunday. Did the bank get the memo?

Will a new foreclosed properties law signed by Gov. Christie this past Friday help Plainfield solve its problems with vacant, foreclosed and abandoned properties?

The new law, sponsored by a South Jersey assemblyman sets stiff DAILY fines for creditors (banks and others) whose properties are in violation of municipal code (see Ledger story here).

How serious a problem is foreclosure in Plainfield? I know of no direct statistics, but RealtyTrac (see their website here), which follows the foreclosure process, indicates there are currently nearly 900 properties in Plainfield that are either foreclosed, in pre-foreclosure, being auctioned or bank-owned.

A browse through these listings will also give you a little insight into the scam that was being played out in the housing 'bubble'. Can you imagine a residence on Westervelt Avenue with a $615,000 mortgage? Or one on Myrtle Avenue with a $557,000 loan? How about a residence on Netherwood Avenue with a $582,000 mortgage? Or a Crescent Avenue property with a $1.8 million 'transfer value'? You get my drift.

I wrote previously about some South Jersey towns' efforts to set up a REGISTRY of foreclosed and vacant properties (see post here). These registries require owners of vacant and foreclosed properties to sign up (for an annual fee of $1,000, with penalties for delaying entry into the program).

The new state law gives municipalities the ability to assess fines up to $2,500 PER DAY per property for out-of-state creditors, an amount that ought to catch their attention.

The first benefit of having a registry, as I see it, is that many communities -- Plainfield included -- simply do not know just how many abandoned, vacant and foreclosed properties there are.

The second, more mercenary, benefit is help to the city's bottom line. If the cost to join the registry is $1,000 per property per year and there are 500 properties (for the sake of illustration) -- what would the income to the city be? Could Plainfield use an extra $500,000?

That's just the registry; the state law allows for the other penalties for failure to meet code requirements (lawns being one of the most obvious). With fines of $1,500 or $2,500 PER DAY, you can see where this is going.

But that's not all. Vacant and foreclosed properties also invite other issues and problems that impact the community -- squatting and scrapping, but also vermin infestations. In fact, in some communities the health officer has had to get involved because of public safety issues involving wild animals and insect-born diseases.

According to the Ledger story, the NJ League of Municipalities is preparing a webinar to help local officials get up to speed on this issue and put the state law into effect.

Let's hope some of our elected officials are paying attention.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sign of the times: Doors

Truck parked outside a Plainfield business.
Spotted doing some work in Plainfield. Perhaps they spell things a bit differently in Belleville?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Two more shootings

A new shooting, and a previously unreported one.

Two more  Plainfield
shootings have come to light. I got word Friday evening about 6:30 PM that a shooting had taken place minutes earlier on Evona Avenue.

I was told the man who had been shot was medevaced, and then heard that he may have died before he could be airlifted. The shooting was reported in a brief in both the Courier and the Ledger -- see today's CLIPS.

The second shooting evidently took place last Sunday at West 4th and New Street and was -- far as I know -- previously unreported. A man was wounded in that incident and an arrest of a 20-year-old East 9th Street resident was made on attempted murder charges Wednesday night. This is also reported in both the Courier and the Ledger and the links are on today's CLIPS.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Audit shows Robinson-Briggs' bumbling legacy still with us

Rating Robinson-Briggs' fiscal performance. Hmmmm....

A quick review of the City of Plainfield 2013 Audit (see the document online here) shows that a host of issues -- ranging from petty lapses to more serious ongoing problems -- are part of a bumbling legacy in fiscal matters bequeathed to the city by former mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

The complete list can be found in the last few pages (starting at page 130) of the PDF document.

Here are just a few examples from former mayor Robinson-Briggs' last year in office --

  • PURCHASING -- The legacy of shoddy purchasing practices was still not under control, with purchases made without purchase orders, exceeding of expenditure limits, and cumulative expenditures over the bid threshold not always approved in the Council minutes. The Mapp administration has been tackling purchasing issues; we won't know its impact until next year's audit.

  • TRUST FUNDS -- Several trust funds set up by 'Dedication by Rider' resolutions were denied by the state because supporting documentation was not submitted. These included the city's Workmen's Compensation and Medical Self-Insurance funds.

  • REGISTRAR -- Quarterly payments to the state (for marriage licenses, etc.) were sometimes late, sometimes incorrect and once were made in duplicate.

  • GRANTS -- Numerous grant issues surfaced, including grant reserves from prior years that need to be cleared. This problem has been pointed out in previous years, and Mayor Mapp's new CFO has moved to begin to clear up this mess.
As Robinson-Briggs appears to be planning a revival of her political career, these audit findings are an important reminder of her past performance.

As for the Council, it is worth noting that the members individually and jointly swear each year that they have read and understand the audit findings and recommendations.

So, why was Councilor Reid so surprised when the CFO proposed a resolution cleaning up just some of the grants mess at last week's agenda-setting session?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

2013 Plainfield audit posted online

The city's 2013 books have been audited.

Thanks to the alacrity of Plainfield
Municipal Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh, I was able to upload the complete 2013 City of Plainfield Audit as performed and reported by Supplee Clooney Inc., the city's auditors. Congratulations go to the city's entire financial team for getting the job done so early! The audit is embedded below, or you may go directly to the website and read it here.

For those interested in the auditor's findings only, they can be found on pages 131-137 of the PDF document (they are listed as pages 49-53 in the document index).

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thursday: Job Fair, Anti-Violence March & Forum

Plainfield young people have led the way in calling
for an end to violence.

Plainfield will see two important opportunities Thursday:
a jobs fair at City Hall and a march and forum against violence.

The jobs fair, long in the planning, is hosted by Mayor Adrian Mapp jointly with the United States Postal Service. It takes place from 4:00 - 7:00 PM at City Hall.

Though Plainfield's jobless rate has fallen in recent months, unemployment and under-employment have long been an issue. The postal service has many kinds of job openings -- not just letter carriers -- so interested parties should check it out.

The evening will see a march and forum concerning violence. The march begins at 5:00 PM at West 4th Street and Rock Avenue, proceed to Leland Avenue and then to the High School, where a forum is scheduled from 7:00 - 9:00 PM. More information on the city's website here.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Assemblyman Jerry Green corrects Dan?

Assemblyman Jerry Green teaches Dan a lesson in government.

Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green, who also serves as chair of both the Plainfield and Union County Democratic committees, corrected Dan in a post on his 'Jerry Green's Page' blog Monday afternoon (see post here).

Green takes Dan to task for asserting in a Monday post (see 'Gloria Taylor: A carpetbagger on residency?') that Green appointed Councilor Gloria Taylor to fill the vacancy left when Adrian Mapp was elected mayor.

Here is what Jerry wrote --

I find it in my duty to correct misinformation that is out there. Otherwise this misinformation could be taken as truth. To get to the point, Dan, Councilwoman Gloria Taylor was elected in the June primary by voters in the Third Ward. She won this primary, she was not appointed by me as the Chair, she was elected. A man of your caliber should know the difference between getting voted in and getting appointed in.
Now, I can be accused of using the shorthand phrase 'Jerry appointed' to convey a larger sequence of events.

In the event of a Council vacancy, the party committee of the officeholder's party is by law to submit three names to the Council, from which the Council is to select one to fill the vacancy.

Since in Plainfield, as Assemblyman Green has told the world (see his famous 'I run this motherf***er' video here) his word runs as writ, I used the shorthand phrase. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that Jerry picked Taylor, nor that the Council was not to have any other opinion in the matter.

What intrigues me is that Jerry asserts that the PRIMARY election voted Taylor into office.

My understanding is that a vacancy is filled by the Council with someone to serve until the voters elect a replacement at the next general election. The general election is the one held in November of each year in New Jersey, as one would hope members of the Legislature know.

The fact that Ms. Taylor had an opponent in the Primary election means that she was running to be the Democratic candidate in the November general election.

Though Taylor won the primary, she is still not out of the woods. In order to take the seat for the balance of Mapp's original term, Taylor must defeat her Republican opponent in the November general election. Until she wins the November election and is sworn in on January 1, 2015, Taylor is filling the seat as an appointee.

Should a man of Assemblyman Green's caliber know the distinction?

Or, as Jerry so often says at the end of making a point, 'Am I right or am I right'?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Council passes HAP ordinance

Council intends to convey Lot 9 to the Housing Authority
for an as-yet-unnamed developer to build "affordable housing".

Despite a review by Plainfield's new Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill that pointed out deficiencies and other problems with the proposed ordinance to convey Public Parking Lot 9 to the Housing Authority of Plainfield, the City Council voted to do so on Monday evening.

After rancorous discussion among themselves, the vote went down 5-1 in favor. Councilor Rebecca Williams was the lone nay vote. Councilor Brown participated by phone. Councilor Storch was absent and is said to be out of the country.

Though Mayor Mapp can veto the ordinance, there is a clear majority to override a veto. The question on the table is whether Corporation Counsel's objections are in any way fatal to the ordinance as written.

What happens now is anybody's guess.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Plainfield youth rally against violence

With bumper-to-bumper traffic and no place to park,
the best I could muster was a shot through the windshield.

Plainfield young people took to the street on Sunday, showing both their solidarity with the family of slain Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO, and concern over violence in our own community.

The young men and women lined both sides of East Front Street near Park Avenue, holding signs that encouraged drivers to honk their horns against violence.

The sound of horns could be heard reverberating along the city's main shopping block for most of the afternoon. Drivers also rolled down their windows to shout support and words of encouragement.

The group's signs were quickly made on posterboard, reflecting the bearer's sentiments and without any sort of group identification.

It struck me as something of a paradigm shift, that young people would spontaneously take the issue to the busiest spot in town without waiting for elders or organizations to get organized.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Council skates on thin ice tonight with two issues

Will the Council fall through?

Plainfield's City Council will be skating on thin ice tonight if it takes up two proposed items -- the ordinance to convey public land to the Housing Authority of Plainfield, and the matter of a residency waiver for Health Officer Denise Proctor.

As has been widely observed, the proposal to convey the parking lot at the corner of West 2nd Street and Central Avenue to the Housing Authority, who would pass it along to a developer to build a residential-only rental complex, is fraught with issues.

There are questions of whether HAP is a reliable partner, whether there is really a developer, and what is the rush.

But most importantly -- and the reason for the thin ice metaphor -- is that the proposed giveaway, vigorously pushed by Council President Bridget Rivers, is in violation of the proper procedures.

As it stands now, that space is used by the public and relied upon by adjacent businesses for their well-being. The public taking of the property without an opportunity for the adjacent parties to be heard would be an outrage.

The kind that would lead businessmen to throw cases of tea into the harbor, if we had a harbor.

The other item that puts the Council in a bind is the possible 'interview' of Denise Proctor in relation to a waiver of the residency requirement.

The Health Officer is not one of the positions which the charter requires the Council to give 'advice and consent' to. What is there to interview about? What is the legal ground on which the Council would stand if it did conduct an interview?

Or would it be putting itself on thin ice and exposing the city to liability?

City Council meets for its regular business meeting in the Council Chambers/Courthouse at Watchung Avenue and Est 4th Street at 8:00 PM this evening. All are welcome.

[Apologies to Ms. Proctor for garbling her name in the original post. -- Dan]

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Gloria Taylor: A carpetbagger on residency?

Appointed to former Councilor Mapp's seat, Councilor Taylor
introduced the term 'carpetbaggers' into the public discourse.

Plainfield Councilor Gloria Taylor's stand on the city charter's residency requirement for employees reminds me of the famous J. P. Morgan quip, 'A man always has two reasons for the things he does -- a good one, and the real one'.

Except in this case it appears it's a woman.

The point at issue is the matter of making a permanent appointment to the position of Health Officer, currently filled by Denise Proctor.

Councilor Taylor has made the residency demand her hallmark issue ever since appointed by Assemblyman Jerry Green to the Council vacancy created by the election of Adrian O. Mapp as mayor.

Though she originally framed her position as an objection to 'carpetbaggers' (see my March 7 post here), she has retreated from the language ever since it was pointed out that the word refers to those who MOVE IN FROM ELSEWHERE to economically benefit from this new community -- exactly the opposite of the spin Taylor put on the term.

Some have suggested that Taylor -- who moved back to Plainfield from Rahway and lives tax-free in a lovely home in a great neighborhood thanks to an exemption granted to her late husband and former mayor of Plainfield, Rick Taylor -- is something of a 'carpetbagger' herself.

Another reason to find Taylor's position somewhat odd is that she herself served as an administrator for many years in the Paterson school district. Her complaint that not living in the community means an employee won't have the community's best interest at heart leads to the obvious question of whether her service in Paterson was flawed by her not living there. In which case, who is she to lecture the rest of us?

Denise Proctor has demonstrated her value (and her concern for Plainfielders' welfare) in the few short months she has been here. Without her efforts, one has to wonder when (or if) the failure to inspect food-related businesses would have come to light; ditto the public swimming pools, for which there is no evidence health inspections were completed before this year. For these two efforts alone, we owe her our thanks.

As to the question of waiving the residency requirement for the city's Health Officer, let's review --

  • Mark Colicchio, the last full-time HO lived in Elizabeth and was waived by the Council;
  • Jadwiga Warwas, MD, lived in North Jersey and was waived by the Council.
Before that, of course, we have the example of Ruby Hodge, who served in several administrations, lived in Englishtown the whole time, and was waived by the Council.

One of the mayors under whom Ruby Hodge served? Rick Taylor, the late husband of Councilor Taylor.

Which leads me back to the J.P. Morgan quote. If the 'good' reason for Taylor's opposition to waiving the residency requirement for Pryor is the charter's requirement, what is the 'real' reason?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that Assemblyman Jerry Green, Taylor's patron and chair of the Union County Democratic Committee, is on the political outs with Proctor's husband, who happens to be the former mayor of Rahway?

[Apologies to Ms. Proctor for garbling her name in the original post. -- Dan]

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gang wars returning to Plainfield?

Three incidents in the past week, including one fatality, raise questions.
With three gunplay incidents within four days, the question arises whether gang warfare is returning to Plainfield.

Saturday evening, the area of West 3rd Street and Monroe Avenue was the site of an incident in which I am told five men were shot, one of them fatally. The Ledger had a brief report in today's issue (see here).

This follows on two separate shootings on Wednesday, one at West 4th and Plainfield Avenue and the other near East 2nd Street and Garfield Avenue.

Though the authorities have been mum on whether the shootings are gang-related or connected to each other, they seem to follow a familiar pattern that we have seen all too often.

Police Director Carl Riley reported at Mayor Mapp's town hall meeting last week that violent crime is down dramatically over the first six months of last year. Let's hope this past week's incidents are not a return to the bad old times.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Muhlenberg commemoration, Mapp BBQ highlight the day

(Left to right) Jaon Van Pelt, Mother Carolyn Eklund and
Dottie Gutenkauf at the 2013 commemoration.

Two events highlight what looks like a perfect summer Saturday.

Plainfielders and others from surrounding communities with gather at 3:00 PM to commemorate the closing of Muhlenberg Hospital in August 2008.

The annual observance draws together those who fought the closure of the 130-year-old hospital, which was also Plainfield's largest employer.

Activists in support of Muhlenberg and local clergy will make brief remarks. The gathering is at the corner of Park Avenue and Randolph Road, beginning at 3:00 PM.

The group always gets enthusiastic honks from passersby who see the banners and posters concerning the hospital.


Mayor Adrian Mapp and his wife Amelia will open their home this afternoon to the seventh annual Mapp Family BBQ. All are invited to the event, which begins at 4:00 PM and runs into the evening.

This is a great opportunity to meet and mingle with old friends and neighbors and to meet newcomers to the community. There is always plenty to eat and drink and music to keep the beat going.

As always, guests are invited to bring along a contribution of nonperishable food items to be donated to local feeding programs. Items gathered in will be distributed through the food pantry of Shiloh Baptist Church.

The Mapp's home is at 535 West 8th Street, and Adrian and Amelia cordially welcome all.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Draft report on possible future for Muhlenberg property

The study area involves the Muhlenberg Hospital
campus (including the lot on Park Avenue which is not highlighted).

With a packed house at Plainfield High School's cafeteria, Heyer & Gruel Associates presented its draft report on possible future uses for the Muhlenberg Hospital campus Thursday evening.

Mayor Mapp opened the evening by welcoming the crowd, introducing the consultants and offering the floor to a representative from Assemblyman Jerry Green's office, who explained the Assemblyman had another meeting to attend.

Later, jokingly referring to the 7:00 AM robocall on which several participants commented, Mayor Adrian Mapp said he took full responsibility for it and its apparent effectiveness -- my guesstimate was there were about 450-500 people there. This is the most since the monster rallies in opposition to the hospital's closing in 2008.

The consultants admitted they were not prepared for a crowd of this size, and were criticized sharply for it by one resident. (The PowerPoint presentation was displayed on a side wall, they had to jerry-rig a pointer, and there were no handouts, were among the issues.)

That being said, the consultants presented a brief overview of one possible scenario for future use of the property.

This was the first time I recall hearing that the scope of their project was restricted to proposed land uses and zoning recommendations for the 17-acre campus, but the explanation was that it hinged on the principal point of JFK's proposal for the protperty -- that the zoning be changed to allow all residential development.

The draft report proposed dividing the campus into two zones, one the parts of the property facing both sides of Park Avenue and the other being the main buildings to the east.

View of half the crowd from my front row seat on one side.

The audience palpably stiffened at the mention of possible assisted living or vetrerans housing uses for a corner of the property opposite the Donald Van Blake tennis courts.

Except for this point, the recommendations followed closely the public's input at three previous community meetings, focusing on possible 'medical mall' uses of the main complex. The exteriors of two historic structures would be preserved. The portion centered on Park Avenue would have a large section reserved for parking and would offer opportunities for some standalone ancillary or educational facilities.

Twenty-four people came to the microphone with comments or questions.

The very first person zeroed in on the housing suggestions and several others echoed her comments -- that the rea residents wanted to see no residential development on the property and had clearly expressed that in all the public meetings heretofore.

The audience was passionate as only Plainfielders can be, but patient and respectful when somewhat different views were expressed by various speakers.

At a couple of points, the audience loudly applauded suggestions of the speakers -- especially when Board of Ed member Fred Moore urged there should be no change at all in the current zoning.

Another was when Bill Michelson, well-known for representing the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District in the fight over the Abbott Nursing Home, made three points (the city should landmark the historic properties post-haste, the plan should drop housing altogether, and the city should hold firm on the current zoning), bringing the house down when he said, 'we should be making JFK punch its way out of its own paper bag'.

Resident and business owner Vicky Griswold pointed out that Solaris [now JFK -- DD] has all along refused to agree to due diligence by prospective purchasers.

This was also alluded to by another resident and business owner, Olive Lynch, who suggested that the books were cooked to portray Muhlenberg as not viable, thus giving the state a reason to allow its closure.

Lynch also outlined a proposal for an initiative to put a public question on the 2015 general election ballot that the property must be used for medical purposes.

Mayor Mapp closed the meeting by noting the consultants would incorporate Thursday's feedback into the final proposal, which is expected by the end of the month, and noted that the presentation would be available on the city's website 'Friday morning'.

Be sure to check it out and stay tuned for the next developments.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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