The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Campbell capers, Mapp coup top 2015 stories


Winners Cory Storch, Emily Morgan and Barry Goode
celebrate with Mayor Adrian Mapp on election night.


Mapp's City Committee slate swept the decks
in the June election.
 
 

As you might expect with a blog that focuses on Plainfield politics, political happenings drew the most interest in 2015. In particular, the Mapp coup in the primary and general elections and the Campbell clan's capers involving both the Council elections and the Board of Ed.

MAPP COUP
Going head-to-head with Assemblyman Jerry Green for control of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee in June and for the party slot for two Council seats, the Mapp teams swept the boards.

Cory Storch and Barry Goode won the primary election (story here, and a review by-the-numbers here).

Following the election, there were questions of whether current Council opposition would get the message (story here), the no-no of Green's office preparing the notices for City Committee reorganization on a state computer (see here).

The smooth transition to Mapp leadership of the City Committee (here) left the question of whether the 2015 election cycle was Jerry Green's 'last hurrah' (see here).

Storch, Goode and Board of Ed victor Emily Morgan took a victory lap in November, after the voters sealed the primary winners' victory (see here), despite Election Day wrangles.

CAMPBELL CLAN CAPERS
The Campbell clan ran on two tracks (City Council and Board of Ed) in this election cycle and their capers garnered a lot of reader interest.

BOE president Wilma Campbell's husband John was surreptitiously appointed to a vacant board seat during the year and stood for election to the balance of that term in the November election (see story on the candidate forum here).

Meanwhile, son John cleverly filed in June to run for the Ward 2 Council seat as an Independent candidate. His first public outing was at the candidate forum in October (see report here), but his splashiest campaign stunt was to plan a campaign event at Leland Avenue Park, which is a property of the Plainfield Public Schools.

When I blew the whistle on that caper (story here), things got really interesting. Turns out young Campbell had gotten the OK from the District (how hard was that?), but had failed to secure the necessary city permit. Mayor Adrian Mapp responded with a public statement and advised the city would not issue a permit for the event (story here). The flap led to cancellation of the planned rally and coincided with a hush-hush pre-election Board of Ed meeting that raised eyebrows and questions (see here).

Retribution for the embarrassment caused by the cancelled Leland Park rally was swift -- on the afternoon before the November 3 election, Mayor Mapp was advised that the school district was withdrawing from a citywide youth summit (slated for November 13), a Mapp initiative that the district was hosting at PHS (see report here). Of course there was no connection (wink, wink). The cancellation of the Youth Summit led to a brouhaha in which Councilor Brown posted a Facebook comment at variance with the facts reported by Mayor Mapp (see here).

The final caper was for the Board of Ed to take the first opportunity after the November election to move the school board election back to April -- at an annual cost to the taxpayers of at least $115,000 per year -- without public notice or discussion (see here).
So, the stage is set for 2016. It should be an interesting year.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Doctor's Day today, see you tomorrow


Doctor's Day today, see you tomorrow.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Frontiers 2016 MLK Breakfast features journalist Earl Caldwell


Journalist, professor and witness to history Earl Caldwell
will speak at 2016 Frontiers MLK Breakfast.

Journalist Earl Caldwell, who has covered -- and been at the center of -- historic events over the last half century is the guest speaker at the 2016 Frontiers International MLK Breakfast slated for Monday, January 18, 2016.

Caldwell, known to many Plainfielders for his WBAI program "The Caldwell Chronicle," covered events from the 1960s urban riots (for the New York Times), the police riot in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic Convention, the trial of civil rights activist Angela Davis and the 1984 presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson.

He covered the Black Panther Party from the inside and made history when the Supreme Court took up a case in which the FBI tried to pressure him to become an informant on the Black Panthers.

Caldwell is currently the Scripps-Howard endowed professor journalism at Hampton University and directs the History Project at the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Plainfield Chapter of Frontiers International's MLK Breakfast event. The program gets under way with breakfast in the Plainfield High School cafeteria at 8:30 AM.

Tickets are $15 per person, $10 for students/seniors, and are available from John Brinkly at (908) 868-8704. This event is always a sellout -- make your reservations now!

Plainfield High School is at 950 Park Avenue. The breakfast is in the cafeteria, which can be entered from the Kenyon Avenue parking lot. Parking is also available in the Stelle Avenue lot. PHS is an accessible facility.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Monday, December 28, 2015

Finding the mysterious Board of Ed election change action


Is this the 'purloined letter'?
 

Several folks have asked about finding the Plainfield Board of Ed's decision to change the school board elections from November back to April.

The complaint is that the action can't be found in the board's agendas as posted online (see here).

Is the answer, like Edgar Allen Poe's famous purloined letter, hiding in plain sight?

David Rutherford, in his December 2 post on moving the election (see here), says '[l]ast month, at our first occasion to do so' the Board took the action.

That suggests that the action was taken not at the November business meeting, but at the November 10 work-study meeting, which was the first Board meeting after the November 3 election which marked the fourth November school board election required by law before a change could be contemplated. You can view that meeting's announced agenda here.

Normally, the work-study agendas contain resolutions to be discussed for action at the next business meeting and note is made at the bottom of the proposed resolution when action is contemplated.

The agenda for November 10 contains no hint of a change of the election date, but it does contain the legally necessary warning: 'Action may be taken'.

These work-study meetings are seldom attended by the public unless a hot-button issue is known about beforehand. I am told there was only one member of the public present. And that the vote went down with only one board member voting 'no'.

Those seeking the resolution that moved the election date -- evidently 'walked on' -- would do well to look here.

Meanwhile, the Board of Ed has not bothered to explain why it took this action without advance public notice or an opportunity to discuss the diversion of an estimated $115,000 every year in perpetuity from its very tight budget for this charade.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Thinkin' about those GOP debates..

Matt Wuerker, Politico.
 


Check out Matt Wuerker, Politico editorial cartoonist and one of my faves (a slide show of his 2015 toons is here).


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Greetings from Balmy New Jersey

 

Christmas Eve temperatures in Plainfield reached the low 70s, as shoppers strolled the streets in tees and jacketless.

All this is thanks to an El Niño pattern -- which we are likely to experience throughout the winter.

But don't get too cosy. The weather service predicts snow and sleet overnight Monday as a cold front cuts across the Garden State.

Merry Christmas to all -- enjoy it while it lasts.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Twelve Days of Christmas


Charlie Brown and friends celebrate
the Twelve Days of Christmas.
 

A Scots native living in Plainfield related at a recent holiday party how amused he was that Americans played and sang the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song in the runup to Christmas and then dropped it once Christmas Day arrived.

In Scotland, he pointed out, the song is only played beginning on Christmas Day.

The Scots have it right (along with the other celebrants in Great Britan).

The Twelve Days is both a season and a song.

The Twelve Days mark off the time between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6), traditionally celebrated as the arrival of the Magi with their gifts for the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). They are either counted from Christmas Day and ending on the Eve of the Epiphany, or from the day after Christmas and ending on Epiphany itself.

Traditionally, these are the days of Christmas merrymaking and they end on the Twelfth Day. (In Plainfield, the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District has continued this tradition for many years with its 12th Night Progressive Dinner, which brings the holidays to an end.)

The song (which, blessedly, I can say I have not heard this year) is first recorded in the 18th century as a memories-and-forfeits children's game (see here). A leader led and the group repeated as the verses were piled up. When a participant made a mistake, they paid a forfeit of a sweet or a kiss.

A tradition has also arisen that the song was a catechetical device for young Roman Catholics, who were banned from publicly practicing their faith in England between 1558 and 1829. You can read about that interpretation here, though it is disputed and may be fanciful. (The only "gift" that would admit of a Roman Catholic interpretation only is the seventh, which this tradition suggests represents the seven sacraments recognized by Roman Catholicism; however, it could represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, a doctrine held by all Christians in common.)

Merchandisers could care less about the custom, and on the day after Christmas mobs will descend on the unsold holiday merchandise, after which the heart shapes of Valentine's Day will take their place.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

First impressions of Plainfield


The house as it was when we bought it in December, 1983.


Neighbor Fred Cone and Dan take the hemlocks down,
Christmas Day, 1983.


The new, improved view, Spring 1984.


Fred Cone and Dan take down hollowed-out maple
next to rear of house, June 1984.


The Reillys introduce Maggie to her new home. She adopted us
quickly and became the undisputed head of the household.
A sweetheart, she had become unmanageable when the
Reillys' baby arrived. They lived in the house that later
became The Pillars bed and breakfast.



We closed on our Plainfield house in December 1983, at a sheriff's sale at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth. It was hardly the sale we envisaged when we signed the contract in September.

Besides its grand look, one of the attractions of the house was that the New York bus stopped literally at the front door. In the first year and a half, I was still working at my job in publishing on 39th Street in the city  and made the daily commute. Nat was still at IBM on Water Street in the financial district.

Our first lesson about Plainfield was looking for a restaurant downtown on the evening we closed on the house. We drove right by Lily Greenleaves without realizing it was a restaurant, and open. One certainly wouldn't have that experience these day in downtown Plainfield.


Another surprise was the cost of fuel oil for the 1,000-gallon tank that first winter. Needless to say, by the second winter we had installed a new energy-efficient gas furnace from -- where else? -- Sears.

I'm posting a few pix from that first year.



  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Santa visits Hannah Atkins Park Wednesday


Toys, books and coats were gathered in for the event.
 

Plainfield Councilors Bridget Rivers and Vera Greaves will host a visit by Santa at Hannah Atkins Park on Wednesday from 5:00 to 7:00 PM.

This is the second year the Council representatives have gathered toys and coats in a drive in memory of the late Joanne Hollis, who served as Ward 4 councilperson and was a champion for children of the 4th Ward.

Coats and unwrapped toys and books were solicited and gathered in last week at Douglas Hall.

Neighborhood children will enjoy a visit with Santa where the gits will be distributed. There will be food and live music.

Hannah Atkins Park is at the corner of West Third Street and Plainfield Avenue.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Plainfield Rec's Pre-Kwanzaa event a big hit


Mayor Adrian O. Mapp addresses the crowd at
Saturday's Pre-Kwanzaa event.


Kwanzaa symbols on display.
 
 
Left scrambling after the Plainfield shool district declined to make Emerson or Washington Schools available for the city's annual Kwanzaa event as they had in past years, the city's Recreation Division came up with a dream location -- the duCret School of Arts auditorium.

Hundreds jammed the auditorium for this year's pre-Kwanzaa event on Saturday (Kwanzaa itself starts on December 26).

Craftspeople and other vendors lined the walls, live music was on hand, and food and fellowship were shared as hundreds packed the auditorium to celebrate the festival.

The crowd was greeted by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, who gave short remarks and welcomed all to the celebration.

Recreation Superintendent Veronica Taylor says she was thrilled with both the turnout and the location. "Parking has always been an issue in the past," Taylor said, "and has sometimes annoyed neighbors, but the duCret School has a magnificent parking lot and we had absolutely no issues at all."

Sounds like a winner to me.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Netherwood Heights Calendar, Drake House ornament great stocking stuffers


 
Two great Plainfield-themed stocking stuffers for last-minute holiday shopping!

If, like me, you find yourself looking for small gifts in the last few days before Christmas that will be 'keepers' (and not the Old Spice gift kit that was always my default gift for my dad when I was a kid), look no further.

NETHERWOOD HEIGHTS CALENDAR

The Netherwood Heights Historic District's annual calendars have becpme a collector's item looked forward to by many each year.

This year's calendar is themed around the fabled Netherwood Hotel, which gives its name to the district. Each month features a photo and facts concerning this high-Victorian retreat that was popular with the late 19th-century Wall Street crowd.

One new fact I learned is that in later years, the hotel was considered for use as a TB sanitorium.

The calendar is available at $20 each, tax included. Proceeds help fund the Netherwood Heights Historic District's community outreach programs. If you want one for the holidays, call Harold at (908) 668-0388 and leave a message. You will get a callback with details. If you're not in a rush, reserved  your copy online at netherwoodheights.com/.

DRAKE HOUSE TREE ORNAMENT

 

The Drake House is issuing its 2016 Tree Ornament, a gorgeious holiday red globe.

Not only will it be a special treat on your holiday tree, proceeds will help the Drake House extend its community activities throughout the year.

The ornaments are $10 each, tax included, and make perfect stocking stuffers for your history-minded friends. If you want to give them for Christmas, stop by the Drake House this afternoon between 2:00 and 4:00 PM and pick them up.

The Drake House Museum at 602 West Front Street (at the foot of Plainfield Avenue) is open to the public Sunday afternoons from 2:00 - 4:00 PM, and at other times by appointment. For more information, call (908) 755-5831 or visit the website at drakehouseplainfieldnj.org/.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Cedar Brook Park improvements bicycle-kicked to State


A bicycle-kick in soccer is a spectacular play in which
the kicker, in mid-air and paralell to the ground,
kicks the ball over his or her head in a downward slant to another player.

Plainfield Planning Board attorney Michele Donato's final meeting on Thursday was an endurance match unlike any other she has seen. Thursday's meeting marked the end of a 30-year run for the highly respected land use attorney.

You might be forgiven for thinking that she was refereeing a futbol match as she had to step in several  times in the course of the meeting to separate quarreling players and enforce the rules.

The subject matter was the Planning Board's capital project review of Union County's proposed improvements to Cedar Brook Park, which include two new artificial turf fields for soccer and football, drainage improvements, night lighting, fencing, bleachers and sidewalk and parking improvements.

The County team, captained by Assistant Union County Counsel Kevin Campbell, seemed to have learned several lessons from its bumpy start at the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) hearing (see my post on that meeting here).

Last night's meeting began with an aerial view of the park, orienting Board members to the proposed work in relation to nearby streets and landmarks (Score!). The presentation also included copies of historic maps prepared by the Olmsted firm in 1922 and 1928 showing active recreational use (Score!). There were, as well, several detailed tinted sheets showing the position of the fields, lighting and drainage work (Score!). All of this much improved the presentation.

These pluses were marred by less than convincing testimony concerning the present condition of the fields (overdramatized by Campbell, IMHO), unsupported assertions about the national shift toward night programming in recreation, and the highly suspect 'expertise' of one witness regarding Olmsted parks.

Board members engaged in lively questioning of the Union County team and it emerged that there were many concerns -- among them the night lighting, a permanent scoreboard, the question of fencing, and removal of trees integral to the Olmsted plan.

When it came time for public comment, Chairperson Ron Scott Bey invited HPC chair Bill Michelson to the table to report the HPC's recommendation. In a letter distributed to Board members at the meeting, Michelson reported that the HPC had declined to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness as the County had not completed answering questions posed by the HPC or supplying further information that was requested.

When pressed by Board attorney Donato whether the letter represented the actions and conclusions of the HPC, Michelson said that it contained his expansions and explanations of the HPC's concerns but was not formally adopted by the HPC.

At several points when Michelson was at the table, Campbell attempted to interject. His assertion was that Michelson has a conflict of interest because he represents a group which is opposed to improvements being proposed by the County for its Rahway River Park.

Donato ruled that the Board was only receiving the letter from Michelson on behalf of the HPC and was not ruling on the question of a conflict of interest.

Donato read from a NJ Supreme Court opinion that underscored that community concerns must be taken into account by an applicant even though the Planning Board's review and recommendation are not binding.

Then, in a bicycle-kick, she noted that in order to proceed with work, the County would need a Certificate of Appropriateness. Since the park is also on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, that meant that a review at the State level was also required. (She also pointed out that if any federal money was being spent, that would invoke a review at the national level also.)

At length, Board member Billy Toth framed (with Donato's help) a lengthy, detailed resolution outlining the Planning Board's review and concerns. That motion was passed, 8-1.

I left at the three-hour mark as the Board prepared to fête Donato with well-deserved refreshments.

Michele, we all thank you for your years of dedicated (and patient!) service to the City of Plainfield and wish you well wherever you go and whatever you do!


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Thursday, December 17, 2015

County snubs Preservation Commission on Cedar Brook Park plans, expected before Planning Board tonight


Union County's proposal includes new artificial turf fields,
bleachers, fencing, lighting and drainage improvements.
 

Union County officials snubbed
Plainfield's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) Tuesday evening, refusing to come back to the table to answer further questions by the commission on the County's proposed Cedar Brook Park improvements.

Chairperson Bill Michelson recounted various phone conversations and memoranda exchanged since the November hearing, which was inconclusive due to the lateness of the hour and further information sought by the commission (see post on that meeting here).

At the end of the November meeting, Michelson says Assistant Union County Counsel Kevin Campbell accused him of a conflict of interest after Michelson revealed he was representing a group opposed to the county's plans to build a stadium and other changes to Rahway River Park.

Michelson made the disclosure during the county's presentation after asking Campbell if any of the representatives there that evening were also involved in the Rahway River Park matter. When Campbell said 'no', Michelson said, 'Good, because I represent the group opposed to that project'.

More importantly, Campbell claims the HPC has no jurisdiction over the project. Contention over this claim ultimately involved Corporation Counsel David Minchello and Planning Board attorney Michele Donato. Minchello sided with the County. Donato, a highly respected land use attorney, was brought in to mediate the matter. According to Michelson, Donato affirmed the HPC's role in issuing a Certificate of Appropriateness.

The county is expected to appear before the Planning Board at this evening's meeting, 7:30 PM in City Hall Library. The Planning Board's review is required, but it can only make suggestions to the County.

Planning Board meetings are open to the public and opportunity is always given for questions and comments. The County's proposed plans are on file in the Planning Division office on the second floor of City Hall and are available for inspection up to 4:30 PM.

Parking and entrance to tonight's meeting are in the lot at the rear of City Hall, Watchung Avenue at East 6th Street.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Did El-Amin catch Council President Rivers in a fib?


Siddeeq El-Amin put Council President Rivers on the spot Monday.

Retired Plainfield police captain Siddeeq El-Amin put Council President Bridget Rivers on the spot at Monday's City Council meeting and there is a question as to whether she fibbed about the matter at hand.

During public comment, El-Amin came to the mike and asked for resolution of a matter that dated back to the beginning of Mayor Adrian Mapp's term.

When Mapp came into office in January 2014, El-Amin was his nominee to be Public Safety Director. His nomination failed to gain sufficient votes among Council members.

What went on behind the scenes is not known, but El-Amin read an eloquent statement at a Council meeting, outlining his efforts to meet or have discussions with various Council members in relation to his nomination (see my post here), which had failed after Councilor Brown stated she had received 'disturbing' information about him.

At the time, El-Amin said he had had conversations with Brown and Taylor, but that Council President Rivers had canceled four meetings she set up with him.

Supposedly, the Council was going to issue an RFP to hire someone to investigate El-Amin's background in relation to the 'disturbing' information.

At this past Monday's meeting, El-Amin told the Council that, after waiting for two years to have the matter resolved (there has never been any further discussion of it by the Council), he had OPRA'ed the supposed RFP and another one concerning more recent demolition activity.

El-Amin read an email from Municipal Clerk "AJ" Jalloh informing him that the responsible party for the RFPs could find no such document as he requested.

Council President Rivers insisted nonetheless that an RFP had been issued.

El-Amin asked that it either be produced or that he be given a public apology in the matter, saying that he would not give up until the matter was resolved.

Rivers sat stone-faced.

After a long pause, Councilor Williams personally apologized to El-Amin for the Council's action.

After another pause, Councilor Brown (she of the 'disturbing' information comment) also apologized.

Rivers said nothing.

So, if an RFP cannot be produced, the unanswered question is whether Council President Rivers fibbed. She can dispel any doubt by providing the RFP.

Will she?




  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

County's Cedar Brook Park proposal tonight at HPC


The proposal would put two new artificial turf fields
in the area between the pine tree icon and Cedar Court.

Union County's proposed improvements to Plainfield's Cedar Brook Park are on the agenda for tonight's Historic Preservation Commission meeting in City Hall Library at 7:30 PM. The agenda can be viewed online here.

The proposal is being continued from last month where it was initially presented but was carried over owing to the lateness of the hour and more information being requested by the Commission.

I wrote about that meeting and outlined the county's proposal in an earlier post (see here). The proposed improvements include two new artificial turf fields (one soccer only, and one combination football/soccer) and a drainage system for same, night lighting, bleachers and removable fencing to enclose the fields.

The proposed improvements would necessitate the removal of a number of trees as well as the installation of 80' poles for night lighting.

Well into their presentation at the November meeting, county officials introduced maps (from the 1920s?) showing that sports fields were in use in the earliest days of the Olmsted-designed and landmarked park. The maps, however, were not submitted to the Commission as an exhibit, which is a shame because they would help to reinforce the County's case.

I spoke at that meeting in favor of the turf proposal -- though I am not a particular fan of artificial turf, which must be replaced periodically and studies have shown is harder on athletes than grass fields.

My reason for supporting turf fields was that Plainfield is woefully short of soccer fields and the recreational equity demanded by the city's changing demographics would begin to be addressed by the proposed new fields.

I also brought up the annual mass events at the park (the R&B By The Brook festival and the annual July 4th Fireworks) which meant that any fencing must be removable to accommodate the large crowds.

But the lighting proposal gave me pause.

The park has always operated on Union County's rules: it is for dawn-to-dusk activity. All sports activities take place in daylight hours and conclude when it is too dark to play. (When I was a kid, we even had a 'twilight baseball league,' whose games were played before dark.)

Then there was the fact that the County was proposing 80-foot towers. No rendering was offered to the Commission to show the scale of the proposed lighting, existing trees and houses in the neighborhood.

I checked out the light towers at Seidler Field, the only field in Plainfield with night lighting. I was told they are 70-foot poles, making them considerably shorter than the county's proposal. Though focused on the field, there is light spillage affecting the nearby homes.



Seidler Field light poles, shorter than those proposed for
Cedar Brook Park, tower over the neighborhood.



To my mind, the proposed lighting is unnecessary and intrusive, given the historic use of the park dawn-to-dusk only and the likelihood of an adverse impact on neighboring homes (notwithstanding the County's assertions to the contrary). In addition, the towers would literally tower over everything in the park, visually changing its character completely.

Less importantly, the trees whose removal is being proposed are part of the fabric of the park as designed and intended by the Olmsted firm -- which makes it a landmark in the first place.

So, I would hope that a close examination of this aspect of the proposal is being made, making sure that only absolutely necessary removals are done and that there are plans to "mitigate" (as resident Gerry Heydt said) the effects of their removal.

The public is encouraged to attend the meeting and will have an opportunity for questions and comments.

The meeting is in City Hall Library. Parking and entrance are at the rear of City Hall, Watchung Avenue and East 6th Street.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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