Is Councilor Taylor's proposed "investigation" a ruse?
Ward 3 Councilor Gloria Taylor resumed her veiled attack on Plainfield Public Safety Director Carl Riley -- and by extension Mayor Adrian Mapp -- at Monday's agenda-setting session of City Council.
Attendees were premature in breathing a sigh of relief at seeing no "discussion" items on the agenda -- which have derailed many a meeting since Mapp took office 31 months ago.
Following a detailed report by Councilor Rebecca Williams from the Public Safety Committee, which she chairs, Taylor launched into a rant on the Police Division.
When Council President Cory Storch tried to shut her down, saying there were no discussion items on the agenda, Taylor paused while he spoke and then steamrolled on for several more minutes, complaining that "we [the Council] need to investigate what's going on with the police" and bitterly noting that Storch has refused to put her resolution from March back on the agenda.
Storch did not gavel her down, but when she finished he said she could bring the matter up at the end of the meeting.
The agenda-setting went smoothly, with all items moved to the business meeting.
Taylor was, however, embarrassed by two small matters. When Councilor Diane Toliver raised questions about the East 2nd Street development project, she demanded to know who was on the Council's economic development committee. Taylor chimed in, asking Storch who were the members -- at which point Councilor Williams read out the list: Councilors Toliver, Storch and Taylor. Taylor made one of those gulping grins she does when caught out.
The second embarrassing moment for Taylor was when Barry Person was being interviewed for a seat on the Planning Board. "Where do you live?" she asked him. When he replied, "629 Hartridge Place", she asked where that was -- betraying that she didn't know it was in Ward 3, which she represents.
After public comment at the end of the meeting, Taylor got her chance to resume.
Though she referenced the recent spate of homicides, her big complaints were that Storch had blocked reconsideration of the resolution to investigate the police that was passed unanimously back in March, that Riley's interpretation of community policing did not meet her expectations, and suggesting darkly that something improper is going on in the Police Division.
According to Taylor, who plays a sort of Miss Piggy role on the Council, community policing means the community sets the direction of policing and not the department. At times it seems she is suggesting a civilian review board, at other times that the Council should direct the policing focus.
One thing you can say about Taylor is that though she can be garrulous she is often inarticulate, hashing and rehashing her words into a confusing and sometimes meaningless word salad.
At each turn, she would smile sweetly at Director Riley and insist that this is not about him. But who else could it be about?
Time and again she referred to "something going on over there" (meaning the police division).
Well, what IS going on is that Director Riley is straightening out a mess that was created by former mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs politicizing the division with favoritism, cronyism and abuse of the civil service promotional requirements and of the distribution of overtime.
Riley was having none of it.
When he had an opportunity to respond to Taylor, Director Riley underscored his emphasis on supervisory accountability, saying he would not put up with "nonsense from a prior administration".
Taylor has often made veiled references to some police officers not being residents of Plainfield -- omitting to mention that state law specifically provides for the hiring of qualified applicants by a community, regardless of their place of residence.
But Mayor Mapp and Director Riley have understood the importance of hiring local recruits who know the community and have a stake in its success. As Councilor Williams pointed out in her report which opened the meeting, since Mapp took office in 2014, the Police Division has hired 18 new officers -- 10 Black, 6 Hispanic and 2 white, reflecting the community's makeup.
Taylor ignored this point during her rants.
Williams also pointed out that continuing efforts to reduce crime have resulted in the seizure of 111 illegal guns, since Mapp took office. Not only were the weapons taken off the street, the Police Division is working with the Union Count;y forensics unit to determine if any were used in other crimes, and with the feds to identify if any of these guns were trafficked and, if so, uncover the chain of illegal sales.
This is clearly important, if not exactly sexy, police work, and helpful in the long run in curbing violent crime.
Taylor blithely ignored the progress.
So, what does Taylor want? She wants to investigate the Police Division, claiming its disciplinary actions are not fair, and that an investigation would make recommendations for "increased interaction with the community".
At this point, with a flourish, Taylor bid Deputy Clerk Sherri Golden distribute Taylor's proposed new resolution. (Council President Storch seemed surprised by this move, which seemed to me to be a breach of protocol -- the Clerk's office does not bring matters to the Council independent of the President's assent.)
Taylor's new resolution calls for an investigation (as outlined above), hiring a specific attorney (Luretha M. Stribling, a personal injury lawyer with a practice in Clark), for an amount up to $20,000, for a report to be delivered within 28 days of the resolution's adoption.
As the discussion unfolded, it seemed Taylor did not have the support to move the item onto the agenda (5 votes would be needed).
Councilors Goode, Brown and Storch demurred at the use of the word "investigation", Williams thought it would not fly, and Toliver feinted with a comment that community policing seemed on an uptick in her ward. (Though I did not hear Councilor Rivers weigh in formally, I saw her in the corridor commiserating with Director Riley after the meeting.)
With that, the air went out of the discussion and the meeting came to a close.
What's it all about?
My suspicion is that Taylor was maneuvering to set up a campaign issue for her pal and former mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who is running as an independent for the Ward 3 seat this November -- facing Charles McRae, who won the Democratic primary. The proposed investigation is just a ruse for engaging in what Taylor calls "dirty politics".
That would account for the resolution's circumventing the public advertisement process, naming a specific attorney and putting a short time frame on the "investigation". Perhaps Taylor has a draft of the proposed investigation's final report already drawn up?
One can't be overly suspicious when it comes to Plainfield politics.
-- Dan Damon [follow]