The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

We're all in this together: Plainfield digs out of winter storm


At the corner of Watchung and North Avenues by the train station,
only the top of the "Detour" sign can be seen.

As Plainfield slowly but surely digs out from the monster storm of 2016 -- word from City Hall is we got nearly 30 inches -- I thought it would be good to take stock of where we are and how we got here "snow-wise".

WEATHER WARRIORS
The main roads remained passable throughout -- thanks to advance planning by public safety and DPW officials.

Red-tags sprouted on parking meters downtown on Friday, in advance of the storm, and did a great deal to encourage drivers to park elsewhere so plows coulld get up to the curb once the storm came. Working together made it work -- the best I think we have ever seen.

John Louise and the DPW crews worked tirelessly for 36 hours straight once the storm hit to keep on top of the accumulations. They deserve a big "thank you" from us all for their backbreaking efforts!

They didn't get in front of your house at once?

The DPW works on a plan for such emergencies. Streets are prioritized and worked on from most urgent (main roads) on down the chain. Eventually, everyone is taken care of. It's as fair a system as I think you can have.


Our own driveways are another matter.

We were not able to get anything done until Tuesday afternoon. With a 150-foot gravel drive, it can't be plowed. The guy who does it with a snowblower had me on his list, but it took two and a half days for my turn to come. Even then, he couldn't get the snow too close around the cars (because it would throw gravel), so there was still heavy shoveling to do before we could get out.

There must be many other stories like ours.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
Even though we couldn't get out, my partner Nat had to go to work on Monday. A co-worker gave him a ride, but he needed to get to the curb.

After wading through the drifts all the way to the roadway, he slipped in the neighbor's driveway apron and went down -- "like a beached whale", he says -- right by the roadway.

To his surprise, every driver that crawled by stopped, rolled their window down and asked if he was OK or needed help. He was able to right himself, but remarked on "the kindness of strangers" (a nod to Blanche DuBois).

But I hear that kindness is not only found among West 7th Street drivers. Many neighbors throughout the city help one another in storm situations by checking on elderly neighbors and friends, making sure they are warm and safe and shoveling their sidewalks as needed. No one hears about these little acts of kindness that help make a town a community.

Most people are also kind as they drive (though certainly not all!), taking special care for pedestrians forced to walk in the street and being watchful at corners that may be piled up with snow from plowing and whose corner-cuts may be flooded with snow melt. They deserve a nod, too.

And downtown property owners and storekeeprs work constantly to keep the sidewalks cleared and free of ice.

It all helps.
WHERE BAD SNOW GOES TO DIE
 


Two views of the public parking lot
behind Verizon's Park Avenue switching station.



Two views of snow at the Park-Madison parking deck.
Most folks probably don't give the snow much thought, once their street and driveway are taken care of.

But, what happens to all that snow?

Plows push it to the side of the road, but the main roads must be made clear from curb to curb, not only for traffic, but also so emergency vehicles can get through.

This means removing a lot of snow.

A lot. As in tens upon tens of tons.

Where does the bad snow go to die?

Public and private parking lots and private vacant lots all over town are piled high with mountains of snow pushed and trucked there to die.

These snow piles last weeks (or even months, in shaded places), until, like the Wicked Witch they finally melt away.

This also is part of the "weather warriors" work, even if we don't see it or aren't aware of it.
IF YOU'RE NOT IN THE LOOP, WHY NOT?
Some of the response to the storm takes place quietly as I noted above,but the city is also active in pushing the word out to residents about what is going on.

If you were not aware of the progress in the cleanup, you need to put yourself in the loop.

Plainfield (and Union County) have adopted several emergency communications methods that keep residents informed -- by phone, text message and email.

Most people should get the robocalls delivered by the City.

I also get email alerts from the county (sign up here) and the City (go here to sign up).

But my favorite is Nixle, to which Plainfield, Green Brook, Watchung and Warren belong (sign up here).

Nixle is great because it sends a text message giving just the information you need to know (a particular street is closed, power is out in a certain area, icy roads, flooding or traffic lights out, etc.)

The neat thing is you get the message as long as your phone is working.

Whichever method you prefer (I'm a belt-and-suspenders guy, and have all three), you owe it to yourself to sign up now for these services if you haven't already. And get your family to do the same.
And now, for some bad news.

Those emergency alert systems all delivered a message Wednesday evening: Residents must have the snow cleared from sidewalks by Friday or face warnings.

This is really being quite nice. It means the City has already given residents several days grace period after the snow stopped falling.

And the alert said only that "warnings" would be issued -- not tickets.

Plainfielders can consider themselves well-treated by the municipality. In Somerville, as the Ledger reports (see here), residents face fines up to $1,250 per offense for failing to get the snow off the sidewalks.

Yes, in Plainfield we are lucky indeed. And we know we are all in it together.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Plainfield Dem City Committee meeting Friday


2016 will be an interesting year.

 
Chairman Adrian Mapp has called a meeting of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee for Friday, January 29.

Among the business for the evening wll be a discussion and planning for the spring 2016 campaign season -- particularly interesting because of the presidential primary taking place this year.

Recent vacancies on the committee will be addressed and there may be a r report from the committee examining the bylaws that was appointed at the PDCC reorganization meeting last June.

Visitors are welcome as observers at Plainfield Democratic City Committee meetings but do not participate in the discussions unless granted permission by the chair.

The PDCC meeting is at 7:00 PM at the Plainfield YMCA, Watchung Avenue at East 6th Street. Parking available in the lot on Cleveland Avenue or on the street. The YMCA is an accessible facility.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Mayor Mapp's State of the City Address rescheduled


The State of The City address has been rescheduled.

Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's State of The City address originally scheduled for Tursday, January 26, has been rescheduled owing to the city's efforts to recover from thie historic snowstorm of this past weekend.

The new date is Thursday, February 4, at 7:00 PM at the Plainfield Senior Center.

The annual address reviews the progress of the various city departments and initiatives in the course of the last year.

At times in the past, the address was delivered at the annual Council reorganization meeting, which made that meeting overlong for many people.

Following the lead of many other mayors throughout New Jersey, Mayor Mapp is making this a standalone event.

The annual messages are then posted to the city website, and broadcast on PCTV.

The Plainfield Senior Center is at 400 East Front Street. Parking available in the East Second Street lot (mind not to park in residents' spaces!) and on the street.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Board of Ed fails to fulfill OPRA request on time


Emily Morgan signs her oath of office at the Board of Ed reorg.


 
On Friday, I was told by a parent that the Plainfield Board of Ed had failed to meet a Thursday deadline for answering an OPRA request concerning the Board's executive session on Tuesday, January 5, 2016.

Not only was the deadline not met, no request was made for an extension or any other reason given for not meeting the request.

As I wrote concerning the reorg (see here), members of the public questioned why new-elected member Emily Morgan was waiting in the auditorium while the Board -- including members John Campbell and Richard Wyatt, who had also been elected in November -- was meeting in Executive Session.

When I asked in the open meeting why Mrs. Morgan had been excluded, board attorney Lisa Fittipaldi said that Morgan was not eligible to attend as she had not yet been sworn in, and besides, the meeting was unimportant, dealing only with "housekeeping" matters.

The parent who made the OPRA request wants proof that a legal executive session was held and wants the documents to prove it.

Here's the way things should go down, if done legally (see the Digital Media Law Project's rundown here) --



Example of a properly noticed Executive Session.
  • A public meeting is properly noticed
  • A resolution is adopted by the body at that public meeting to go into closed session
  • The topics to be discussed must be listed (there are only nine possibilities)
  • The body must come back into open session at the end of the executive session to continue and/or end the (public) meeting.
The parent asked for --

  • The legal notice
  • The meeting agenda
  • The resolution to go into executive session
These should be easy enough to supply in a timely fashion if the meeting was conducted in accordance with the Sunshine Law.

The only agenda on the Board of Ed website is for the reorg meeting itself; it does not include any reference to an executive session.

The Board of Ed has put itself in a pickle.

If the meeting was legally business of the 2015 school board, where is the proof that it was called and conducted in accordance with the law?

What was the "housekeeping" business? "Housekeeping" is not an eligible categroy for an executive session discussion. Where is the agenda outling the legitimate items to be discussed?

If the executive session touched on any 2016 Board of Ed business (election of officers, committee assignments or other reorg matters), then the public is owed an explanation as to why Mrs. Morgan was excluded.

The Board should clean this matter up to everyone's satisfaction immediately.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Sunday, January 24, 2016

(Almost) all quiet on the Western front


Ain't goin' nowhere soon at 661.
 


This weekend's snowstorm shows Plainfielders how well things can go when all the pieces fit together.

The weather people got it right and pushed the message out in plenty of good time, making it possible for local, county and state authorities to be well prepared.

In a sight never seen before in my memory, red "Emergency No Parking" tage were hung on parking meters downtown on Friday -- in advance of the storm -- warning people against parking on the streets over the weekend.

As a result, DPW plow crews' job was made immeaasurably easier for not having cars snowed in as they plowed the main streets downtown.

David Rutherford got out for a walk and posted pix of the jaunt from Pemberton Avenue to downtown and back (see here).

NJ Transit shut down the entire system at 2:00 AM on Saturday morning (see here), which has made it blessedly quiet on West 7th Street without the New York buses rumbling by regularly.

That wll probably soon end, as NJT says it will bring trains and buses back online as conditions merit.

As you can see from the photo above, we are still completely snowed in at 661. The pantry is well-stocked and we're in no hurry.

The only excitement was a tow truck's lights awakening me at 3:45 AM Sunday to tow away a disabled car from in front of the next door neighbor's house. Who knows why those folks were on the road!


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Councilor Taylor misses important Planning Board meeting


Councilor Gloria Taylor missed an opportunity to weigh in
on one of her pet projects Thursday evening.

Plainfield
City Council member Gloria Taylor unexplainedly missed her maiden meeting as the Council's representative on the Planning Board yesterday evening.

Taylor, who represents Ward 3, was instrumental in delaying the approval of the South Avenue Gateway project for several months in 2015, arguing in part that the Council had been kept in the dark about Planning Board decisions, though that turns out not to have been the case.

It is widely believed that that dispute was resolved when the Mapp administration agreed to move a proposal for apartments and an industrial building on South Second Street forward.

Councilors Taylor and Brown (whose church is across the street from the proposed South Second Street project) were key in advancing it.

Last night's Planning Board took up discussion of the project.

I noticed that the agenda item did not contain an application number, and it was brought out that the developer had not gone through the regular channels of making an application through the Planning Division (which assigns numbers to applications). Nor had the Council's resolution on the matter been forwarded to the Planning Division.

Instead, a complete draft proposal, prepared by the developer, was taken up and approved by the City Council in November, authorizing Mayor Mapp to sign the agreement, though he could modify it in consultation with the City's planners.

Planning Director Bill Nierstedt pointed out that the property in question was already part of the "infamous 197 [properties] plan" adopted during the late Mayor Al McWilliams' first term. That plan called for scattered-site redevelopment of 197 properties under the ownership or control of the City.

The property currently under discussion stretches eastward on South Second Street from Grant Avenue to Muhlenberg Place and is commonly referred to as "the Oliver Brown property" after a previous owner.

Nierstedt and Board chairperson Ron Scott Bey took pains to underscore that the Planning Board was in control of the planning process and was in discussions with the developer, though the parties are not in complete agreement about the project.

The outcome of the Planning Board discussion, as I understood it, was that the Board was standing by the earlier redevelopment plan for this particular property and forwarding its recommendation to the Council.

Approval of that plan by the Council would set the stage for the developer and the City to negotiate a final plan acceptable to all parties.

The resolution summing this all up was put forward by John Stewart Jr., who is Mayor Mapp's designee on the Planning Board.

Reached by phone, Council President Cory Storch confirmed that he had appointed Taylor the Council's representative on the Planning Board at her request.

It hardly seems like a good start for Taylor not to show up at her first Planning Board meeting, especially when a pet project of hers was on the table.

It will be interesting to hear her reaction when the board's resolution is brought before the Council. Will it be "I didn't get the email," or "Something crooked is going on here!"?


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Inaugural Plainfield Youth Summit


Mayor Mapp and Councilor Williams enjoy a moment
at Plainfield's inaugural Youth Summit.
 

Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp hosted the inaugural Youth Summit on Saturday, January 16 at duCret School of Art.

Organized by the Grassroots Community Development Corporation, the event featured Morehouse College professor Dr. Marc Lamont Hill as keynote speaker.

The auditorium at duCret was standing-room-only as about two hundred and fifty participants listened to speakers and participated in panel discussions. The walls were lined with information tables of various groups supporting youth development, job opportunities and training, and community service opportunities.

Here are some photos from the event taken by the Recreation Division, which coordinated the event.






First Lady Amelia Mapp and Recreation assistant.








Mayor Mapp has indicated he wishes to make this an annual event as part of the MLK celebrations.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

State of City Address set for Tuesday



Mayor Mapp will deliver the annual 'State of the City' address.
 

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp will deliver Plainfield's 2016 "State of the City" address as required by the city charter (article 3.4; the charter is online here) Tuesday, January 26, at 7:00 PM in the Plainfield Senior Center.

The annual address reviews the progress of the various city departments and initiatives in the course of the last year.

At times in the past, the address was delivered at the annual Council reorganization meeting, which made that meeting overlong for many people.

Following the lead of many other mayors throughout New Jersey, Mayor Mapp is making this a standalone event.

The annual messages are then posted to the city website, and broadcast on PCTV.

The Plainfield Senior Center is at 400 East Front Street. Parking available in the East Second Street lot (mind not to park in residents' spaces!) and on the street.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Campbell Krew playing games with BOE petitions?

 
 

Plainfielders must now wonder if Board of Ed president Wilma Campbell is playing games with the petition process for the April school board elections.

More than two months after the Board surreptitiously switched the election date from November to April, petitions are still not available for those wishing to run for the three seats that are up in the April balloting (Ms. Campbell, Mr. Moore and Ms. Clarke).

A parent of children in the public schools who is interested in running for a school board seat told me that when she checked with the district for a petition last week, she was told that they would not be available until "some time in February."

When in February?

"We don't know," she was told.

Hmmm.

The deadline for candidates for the three slots to file their petitions is Tuesday, February 29.

The last day to register to vote in the April school board election is Tuesday, March 29.

The Board of Ed election itself will be held on Tuesday, April 19, from 2:00 to 9:00 PM



  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, January 18, 2016

MLK Day 2016

The MLK Monument at dusk.
Image courtesy MLKing-Raleigh.org.


The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Plainfield Frontiers hosts annual MLK breakfast Monday


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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Friday, January 15, 2016

Youth Summit on Jobs and Education set for Saturday

 

Plainfield's first ever Youth Summit takes place Saturday(January 16) at duCret School of Art from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

The focus is positive steps to help Plainfield young people in their transition to adulthood --
  • Educational opportunities
  • Job training
  • Conflict resolution
and more.

Hosted by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, Plainfield young people themselves will serve as moderators for the event.

The keynote speaker is Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, professor of African American studies at Morehouse College. Dr. Hill is known to many for his social justice activism and journalism.

Musical performances will be presented by Brother Hahz and DJ Lil Man. Free refreshments will be served and various prizes awarded.

The event is free and open to all.

duCret School of Art is at 1020 Central Avenue (across from Cedarbrook School). The event is in the auditorium. Parking and entry in the lot at the rear of the school complex.



  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mayor Mapp's Annual MLK Potluck and Food Drive Saturday


There's always a full crowd at the annual MLK Potluck.
 

Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp and First Lady Amelia are welcoming the community into their home this Saturday for the 8th Annual MLK Potluck and Food Drive.

Begun by the New Democrats club, the event has been sponsored by the Adrian Mapp Civic Association in recent years. The must-make event provides an opportunity to socialize over a potluck dinner, honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and pitch in to help fellow Plainfielders experiencing rough times.

Donations of non-perishable food items -- canned goods, pasta, beans, rice, etc., or toiletry items -- will be gathered for delivery to Shiloh Baptist Church's food bank. Items may be brought along to the potluck or left ahead of time on the mayor's porch at 535 West 8th Street.

Any kind of dish will be welcome for the potluck, which always includes an amazing variety of tasty foods plus a dessert table.

Note that this year's event gets under way at an EARLIER HOUR -- 5:00 PM.

Come along and have a good time!


8th ANNUAL MLK POTLUCK & FOOD DRIVE
SATURDAY, JANUARY 16
5:00 PM - Midnight

The home of Mayor Adrian and Amelia Mapp
535 West 8th Street


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Council President Storch keeps word on Council conduct


Newly elected Council President Cory Storch
conducts his maiden agenda-setting session January 11.
 

Plainfield City Council's new President, Cory Storch, showed that he means what he says about the conduct of Council meetings (see his blog post on the matter here).

At the point in the meeting for "discussion items", Storch laid out his view of how he will conduct meetings.

Regarding the length of time for public comments, he asked Corporation Counsel Dave Minchello to explain the constitutional implications of not treating all speakers in a uniform fashion.

The bottom line is that all speakers will get their 3 minutes (in the first comment period) or 5 minutes (at the end of the meeting) with no extensions. Storch underscored that those desiring to speak would be well-advised to time their remarks beforehand so they can get their points made in the allotted time.

Councilor Taylor, in a hair-splitting maneuver, asked if there were no exceptions. When asked for an example, she struggled to come up with one, finally hitting on a person who may have a disability. Minchello agreed there might be an extenuating circumstance in such a case.

The rule was tested during the initial public comment period, which was almost exclusively taken up with the question of the school board election date.

Board of Ed President Wilma Campbell ran out the clock before finishing her points and looked beseechingly at Storch. Storch remained firm and the audience expressed its support for his stand.

Likewise, BOE attorney Lisa Fittipaldi, evidently unaccustomed to time constraints, ran up against the buzzer before she had made her final point. Too bad. She had to relinquish the mike.

Resident Mustapha Muhammad, who has frequently been granted multiple extensions of the time limit, kept his remarks well within the time limit.

So, it can be done.

Storch was also at pains to explain a parliamentary maneuver (Point of Order), which Council President Rivers always ignored during her tenure.

The Council's conduct was remarkably even-tempered, with no flareups. Perhaps they were on their best behavior for the night?

Councior Taylor, however, during the discussion on developing a policy for the use of emergency communications, showed off her proclivity for dead-horse-beating, catching herself in a loop of repetition that left the audience rolling its eyes.

Despite the measurable improvement in the tone and conduct of the meeting, there is still some work to be done.

The meeting still started late, owing to an executive session that spilled over into the announced meeting time (the meeting finally started at 7:43 PM). This is an even worse problem with the Board of Ed meetings.

Since there was going to be a continuation of the executive session after the agenda-setting was finished, I don't see the reason for the late start. It would be easy to have the Clerk set an alarm to go off five minutes before the scheduled public meeting time.

Murmuring and audible conversation in the audience were also problems at points in the meeting. There is no reason for this. Council President Storch has the gavel and should wield it, in my opinion, to keep order in the audience as well as at the Council table.

Three sharp cracks of the gavel are a universal signal to quiet down, and should be used as needed.

Audience members can be told to go out in the hall if they must have a conversation.

Lastly, I think that applause in support of one or another speaker should not be permitted. The prohibition has perhaps been honored more in the breach than not in the past, but it helps keep the Council meetings from devolving into a futbol brawl.

Council President Storch has got us off to a good start.

Who knows, maybe Plainfield City Council meetings will cease being a source of embarrassment and become the place where the public's business gets done in a respectable fashion.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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