The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gloria Taylor frank about her ignorance

Councilor Gloria Taylor was refreshingly frank about her ignorance
of Plainfield geography.
Plainfield Councilor Gloria Taylor was refreshingly frank about her ignorance at Monday evening's Council agenda-setting session.

The moment came as she questioned Plainfield's brownfields grants administrator, April Stefel, about the program and site locations. Taylor's complaint was that the resolution cited the locations by block and lot (which is the legal description of a property) but not by street address. Stefel replied with the street locations and even mentioned property owners' names by way of reference (e.g., Marino's auto location on West Front Street).

Stefel also explained that the sites -- identified years ago -- had not been remediated as proposed in 2009 owing to the state's lack of funds; the funds are now available, hence the resolution.

Notwithstanding Taylor's ignorance of these brownfields locations, she raises a useful point. The two most often asked questions by the Council about resolutions are: Where is that? and Where is the money coming from?

An example of the latter came up with reference to the (at last!) purchase of the CCTV cameras. The resolution as summarized on the agenda only gave the total figure of $463,530. When Public Safety Director Carl Riley was quizzed about the source of funds, he advised that $200,000 was coming from UEZ funds and the balance by a grant from the Union County Prosecutor's office.

Would it be useful if the Mapp administration required everyone preparing a resolution to ALWAYS include the common street address along with the legal lot and block identification? And how about including a parenthesis at the end of a request for funding indicating the total amount requested and the funding source? Something like this (Total: $4 trillion; Source: Council's lunch money fund).

Seems to me like a simple solution that would help speed meetings along.

That being said, there is no defense against the fact that the Council often enough seems not to have read through their packets.

A case in point was the discussion of renewing the longstanding Urban Enterprise Zone sign-and-facade program, which allows qualified participants up to $25,000 to renovate storefronts, with the property or business owner to also contribute towards the total cost.

After a considerable explanation by Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez, one Councilor -- whom I won't embarrass by naming -- asked where the money was coming from. Duh! The resolution said it was from UEZ monies, the entire conversation was framed about it being a UEZ program. Go figure!

As expected, Councilor Reid played his standard I'm-protecting-the-taxpayers card during the discussion of the forensic audit. After much discussion -- not to mention his rude interruption of Councilor Williams while she was speaking -- Reid alone spoke against moving the resolution forward. (You will want to check out David's video of the discussion here.)

Once again the Mapp administration tried to advance nominations for PMUA commissioner, to no avail. Councilor Taylor led the opposition, insisting that she -- and the majority of the Council -- were unwilling to confirm new commissioners because the Council is waiting for 'a report on what is going on over there'.

This is a classic stall; a serious request for a report would have a deadline. There is no deadline here, so Taylor & Co. will use this to stall as long as they like.

Councilor Storch, who was a few minutes late to the meeting, asked what was going on. As he put it, he believed the Council had worked out an agreement to proceed on four nominations. He demanded to have public disclosure of who had changed their mind and why. His questions were ignored by both Council President Rivers and Chairman Reid.

Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill admonished the Council in the matter, citing the state's public contracts law, but I found it hard to make a connection to the resolutions at hand, which concerned the appointments and not Taylor's suggestion of some kind of report.

In any event, the appointments languish still. As of the end of January, yet another seat will become due to be filled -- for a total of five out of seven. One wonders if Mayor Mapp can appeal to the State to resolve the problem of the Council's obdurate refusal to confirm replacements.

Meanwhile, Councilor Reid was caught out when he questioned Administration & Finance Director Ron West about a request to transfer funds from one account to another.

State law allows municipalities to do this swapping from one account to another during the last two months of a town's budget year. Almost every town does it, and the practice goes back beyond memory in Plainfield.

Nevertheless, Reid questioned West, asking if the Council hadn't just agreed to some transfers at the November combined meeting. West replied that the Council had indeed done so, but this month's request included an item to make up the shortfall in health benefits payments for the Bilingual Day Care employees. That shortfall was as a result of the cut of $400,000 made by the Council to the current year's budget request at the instigation of the budget consultant the Council had hired on its own.

Reid did not linger over the fact that the Council had gotten bum advice from the consultant. Nor did he focus on how he had wasted the taxpayers' money in insisting on hiring that particular consultant. Funny how these things work, isn't it?

Despite the entertainment factor, Council did manage to move the ball down the field.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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