The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Council 'discussion' items: Would better questions give better answers?


A hobby-horse that really goes somewhere?
An idea whose time has come?

About an hour of Monday's Plainfield
City Council meeting was taken up with three 'discussion items' put on the agenda by Council President Cory Storch. At the end of it, I was left wondering if better questions would give better answers?

Under former Council President Bridget Rivers, these 'discussion items' were used to harass Mayor Adrian Mapp or his initiatives. So, under new and more friendly Council leadership, one could be forgiven for expecting such 'discussions' to advance Mapp's policies and programs or at least to shed light on an important subject.

In my mind, last night's 'discussion' failed to deliver the goods on either count.

Let's take a closer look --

WATER QUALITY

Representatives of NJ American Water made a brief presentation about the quality of the utility's water supplied to Plainfield residents.

They pointed out water quality is regulated by NJ DEP and the federal EPA requirements, all of which the company (and its predecessor Elizabethtown Water) have met ever since there were government requirements.

As for lead contamination -- which was prominent in the news a few months ago with regard to water in NJ public school buildings -- the issue is not with the water supplied by the company, but with lead pipes and lead soldering in older homes, which can leach into the home's water. Solution: Run the water a few minutes every day to clear the pipes.

(Aside: When I asked a couple of months ago about whether the water had  been tested in the school district's buildings, I was told that it has been, recently, and that there are no issues with lead. The District has yet to make any public statement on the matter.)

Councilor Taylor took the opportunity to engage in a rant about sewer rates, which are set by the PMUA and have no connection to NJ American's supplying the water for the system. Councilor Goode sought clarification on the switch of billing from quarterly to monthly. (Answer: Cash flow; the practice squares up with other utilities such as gas, electric and landline telephone service.)

While the segment presented useful information, I couldn't help but think that it would make a far better presentation at a Town Hall meeting, where NJ American could also have an informational table and answer resident questions on a one-to-one basis. I also wondered if they have informational videos on the issues, whether these are being run on PCTV as standalone public service announcements.

All in all, the need and benefit of this 'discussion' item struck me as underwhelming.

BROWNFIELDS

Ms. April Stefel, Plainfield's longtime -- and sole -- brownfields honcho was next up. Billed by Council President Storch as 'a brief update', it looked to become anything but as Stefel worked her way into a PowerPoint presentation she nicknamed 'Brownfields 101'.

Stefel made a point of clarifying the difference between 'brownfields' and toxic sites -- they are not the same.

With hundreds of brownfield sites in the city, it was impossible to make out any detail in the maps that were projected. Storch, who had come down from the dais to sit in the audience for the presentation, eventually seemed to whisper to Stefel to cut it short and focus on the maps.

It seemed that Stefel had interpreted her assignment in one way and that Storch had something different in mind. Working on sharpening the question in the first place would surely have made for a more focused presentation, to the relief of both parties.

At the end, I don't know that the audience (or the Council for that matter) learned anything substantial from the presentation. While the 'discussion' may have been well-intentioned, it failed to deliver the goods, in my humble opinion.

AT-RISK YOUTH

This 'discussion item' appeared to be an opportunity for Councilor Taylor to ride one of her favorite hobby-horses.

Despite the fact that Mayor Mapp has taken the lead in establishing Youth Summits to gather young people together to deal with issues as they perceive them, and has expanded recreation programming throughout the City, as well as developing community outreach efforts by the Police Division under Police Director Carl Riley, Taylor continues to imply nothing is being done.

When pressed however, she brings no new ideas to the table.

Director Riley pointed to the dramatic drop in both violent crime (27%) and shootings (40%) since Mayor Mapp has taken office. He also noted that the Police Division is planning 'Community Cookouts' between the Division and residents to be held in all four wards. This is in addition to a summer program (later explained by Officer Bernal Harrison) that is taking place at the Plainfield Public Library.
Bottom line: These 'discussion items' would be much more useful if they were better planned and more pointed.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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