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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Council gets forgetful

Some councilors seemed forgetful last evening.

Plainfield's City Council mostly plowed through a serious agenda on Monday evening without fireworks, and only one moment of confusion and chaos.

While the esteemed Councilors did some heavy lifting (two PILOTs for the South Second Street project, the municipal ID card, a slew of contracts for lawyers and the paid sick leave ordinance), there were odd lapses among several suggesting either forgetfulness, inattention -- or perhaps early onset Alzheimer's.

After the PILOTs for the South Second Street projects were discussed, Councilor Toliver commented that she wanted the Mapp administration to make sure that the first thing the "found money" was to be used for was to reduce property taxes. Director of Finance and Administration Ron West had to remind her that it was the Council's job to tweak the budget to affect the tax rate. Duh!

Municipal Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh noted that Thursday's "State of the City" address constitutes a special meeting of the Council, as the city's special charter requires it to be delivered "before the Council and the public." The Council had forgotten? -- or perhaps they have never read the Charter.

There was some discussion of a resolution setting a 2016 tax rate (2¢ per $100 valuation, or about $22 per ratepayer on average) for the Open Space Fund. Council seemed to have forgotten that once it established the fund by ordinance, a rate needs to be set each year. Last year's had mistakenly been set at
1¢, this year's rate was a correction. The trust fund is intended to accrue over the long term to be used for maintenance and acquisition of open space for the enjoyment of the community.

Council also seemed to have forgotten that in the kerfuffle over the South Avenue Gateway project, members had complained -- bitterly -- that they were unaware of the process the Planning Board had gone through with the project. So, when Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez explained that the administration was bringing five parcels before the Council to consider for designation as in need of redevelopment, he had to remind them it was because this was the way they said they wanted things to happen.

Likewise, with the South Second Street project, several Councilors seem to have forgotten that the current proposal was not an allowed type of project and would need to be permitted through -- yet another -- amendment of the redevelopment plan for the area.

The most egregious example of Council forgetfulness was the discussion around ordinance MC2016-08, establishing a paid sick leave policy for employees of private businesses.

Councilor Taylor said she was opposed to putting the item on the agenda because "the business community had no input". She further said that a proposed revision was received by the Council but never acted on. She seemed to totally forget that she was the main mover in pushing for the business community to work with the Working Families people to come up with a compromise proposal and that several Council people were to be included in that process. When Taylor said that she was against moving it forward because the business community had been left out, she got pushback.

A spokesperson for Working Families pointed out that meetings had been held with the business community, that every concern they raised had been dealt with by a compromise and the group thought the revised proposal had the assent of the business community. By going around the process established by the Council and forwarding yet another proposed rewrite directly to the Council (leaving Working Families out of the loop), it seems clear the business community was negotiating in bad faith.

The only moment of chaos and confusion during the whole meeting came when a roll call vote was called on the paid sick leave ordinance. When the Clerk got to Councilor Toliver, she voted "Yes, but..." and started to discuss her reservations. Suddenly several Council members were talking all at once, over the top of each other. Councilor Taylor seemed to lose control of the process. Council President Storch banged the gavel but seemed unsure who had the upper hand at the moment -- himself or Taylor.

Finally, Clerk Jalloh intervened and reminded the Council that according to Robert's Rules of Order, there was to be no discussion during a roll call vote. Snapped back to attention, the vote was re-run with the ordinance forwarded to next week's agenda unanimously.

Despite that lapses and the last-minute momentary confusion, Storch can notch another session better run that in the past.

Council's business session is next Monday, February 8, at 8:00 PM in the Council Chambers / Courthouse at Watchung Avenue and East 4th Street.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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