Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Council questions capsize demolition agenda

Council balked at funding demolition of this fire-damaged North Avenue building.

Unanswered questions by Plainfield City Council members at Monday's special meeting caused the Mapp administration's agenda for the North Avenue building demolition to capsize.

In a notice for the special meeting sent out by Municipal Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh on Friday, the administration laid out three resolutions to be adopted on Monday: one to authorize the emergency procurement of demolition services, another to fund a $250,000 appropriation, and a third to award n emergency contract to Yates Real Estate to perform the demolition.

An email from Mayor Mapp about 4:30 PM Monday contained a PDF file of documents associated with the demolition which I have posted online (see here) and also embedded at the bottom of this post.

As the meeting unfolded, it seemed from various Council comments that they had not been given the backup documentation in advance and only received it late in the afternoon along with the bloggers.

The room was relatively full, with a cross-section of residents and business owners affected by the "accidental" dislodging of debris that fell on an adjacent roof, causing the businesses in that building to be ordered closed at once.

During the public comment section, several people challenged the manner in which Yates Real Estate was selected, their qualifications, the timeline of the whole process and the necessity to knock the building down before the Council meeting. Resident Alan Goldstein asked the Council to table the whole business.

Realtor John Campbell, who knows a thing or two about making money, asked how the cost for demolition went up from an estimate of $90,000 he heard just after the fire to the current figure of $214,500. He brought chuckles from the audience when he declared that if all that was needed was a real estate license, this was a business he would like to get into.

When asked by Council President Bridget Rivers to respond, DPWUD Director Eric Watson pulled up a chair and sat cozily amongst the Council members, where he remained for the balance of the meeting.

Councilors seemed incredulous that the actual demolition took place before their meeting. Councilor Toliver asked why, if it was so urgent, Mayor Mapp had not summoned them on Friday evening as he has the power to do. Councilor Greaves said not informing the Council of the impending demolition was "outrageous". Councilor Taylor, after a long peregrination, finally arrived at her customary olfactory trope, saying "I don't know what's going on, but I smell a rat".

When the Council finally got to voting on the three resolutions, this is the way it went down --

  • First, to authorize the procurement of demolition services. The resolution failed with Rivers, Brown, Taylor and Toliver voting "no", Storch and Williams voting "yes" and Greaves abstaining.
  • Then, to appropriate funds, the vote was 6-1, with only Williams voting "yes" after Councilor Storch pointed out the last two resolutions were pointless if the first was not passed.
  • Lastly, to award a demolition contract, the vote again was 6-0, with only Williams in favor.
Council President Bridget Rivers led into a further discussion about having the Council hire its own attorney -- no disrespect to the Corporation Counsel, she said -- to investigate the whole demolition process.

In the course of the back-and-forth Rivers cited the Council having hired an attorney to look into former Mayor Robinson-Briggs' misappropriation of money donated by Investors Bank for a July 4th Parade to pay for the Rev. Al Sharpton to appear at a town hall on gang violence. Robinson-Briggs, who was sitting in the audience, kindly corrected Rivers when she misspoke of the amount involved.

A whispered conversation between Rivers and the municipal clerk resulted in Mr. Jalloh reminding Council that they could not undertake any action on items except for those on the notice of the call for the meeting, and suggested that the matter be taken up with Corporation Counsel separately.

How things will be resolved now is anybody's guess. The work is done, but when Yates will be paid is unclear. Stay tuned.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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